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Managing Migraine in the Workplace: How to Advocate For Yourself

November 05, 2020

Balancing work and life responsibilities is tough enough. Add migraine to the mix, and the whole idea of “balance” may seem absolutely impossible.  

The global My Migraine Voice survey found that 72 percent of U.S. respondents needed at least one day off of work in the last month because of migraine, while more than half said they’d lost at least five workdays in a month. And because migraine is an invisible disability, colleagues often fail to understand how it affects people.

If you’re unsure how to address migraine at work and get the support you need, these tips can help!

Offer some basic migraine education. 

In the survey, 30 percent of people who said migraine affected their work life also said they felt judged for having the condition. Explaining migraine to coworkers isn’t in your job description — and honestly, it can be exhausting. But investing some time in educating your manager and peers can pay off in the long run by generating more goodwill and less judgment.

Wondering how to talk about migraine at work? You certainly don’t owe anyone your personal medical history. But to start, you could explain that: 

  • Migraine is more than a headache; it’s a common but complex neurological disorder.
  • For you, a migraine attack feels like…
  • Your migraine triggers can include…
  • It’s impossible to predict exactly when an attack will occur, but you typically have them X times per month.
  • You are receiving treatment for migraine that reduces the severity and/or frequency of attacks.
  • When you experience a migraine attack, you’re unable to perform X and Y job duties.


Ask for the migraine supports you need. 

The My Migraine Voice survey found that while 80 percent of employers were aware of the employee's migraine, only 21 percent offered support. The takeaway: You’ll have to be clear and persistent about requesting the accommodations you need to work with migraine.

You may have more success getting these supports if you can see things from your employer’s perspective. Your workplace wants you to be as productive and efficient as possible, right? Make sure your manager understands that providing you with a non-triggering work environment can help you stay well and avoid taking time off because of an attack.

It’s also key to be prepared in case of a migraine attack at work. Carry a migraine relief kit, which might include medication, sunglasses, an eye mask, etc.  

Know your legal rights at work. 

If you have migraine, you may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA says it’s illegal for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a worker with a disability, and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees who have a disability.

So is migraine a protected disability? It can be, if migraine substantially limits your ability to complete one or more major life activities (such as walking, thinking, reading, communicating, etc.) If you demonstrate that your migraine is a disability under the ADA, and you meet the other qualifications, you may be entitled to reasonable accommodations.

In a nutshell, these accommodations are changes that allow you to do your job successfully without causing your employer undue hardship. For people with migraine, this may mean a flexible or telework schedule; a workspace free of noise or fluorescent lighting; a fragrance-free workplace; a screen-glare reducer; etc. You also should be able to use migraine treatments at work whether medication or your CEFALY DUAL.

Patients Rising offers a detailed guide to workplace discrimination and accommodations for people with migraine. It’s important to note that employment law is complex. You should consult an attorney if you believe your employer is discriminating against you because you have migraine.

Speak up for yourself. 

Even if you are, by nature, someone who’s private or shy, it’s really important to learn how to be a vocal advocate for what you need. Don’t push off that responsibility onto someone else. 

For instance, it may be fine for your spouse or partner to call or email your manager and let them know you’re out sick, if you’re suffering a particularly bad migraine attack. However, your loved one should not intercede in workplace matters beyond that — asking for accommodations on your behalf, for example, or arguing with your boss about the severity of your symptoms. You have to speak up. 

That being said, it’s definitely helpful to have migraine allies at work! These are colleagues who will gladly lend a hand when you experience an attack during work and defend you when you encounter migraine stigma. The more migraine champions we have, the easier it will be for the millions of people with migraine to succeed in their professional lives.

Learn more: How to Find Your Migraine Allies

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