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Managing Headaches in the Workplace

Accommodations for employees with headaches and/or migraines.

From the desk of James Potts, M.S., Consultant - Cognitive/Neurological Team


Do you experience headaches at certain times of the day? Are there certain triggers that contribute to the onset of the headache? When you experience a headache or migraine, how long does it last? Are there changes that can be made in the workplace to reduce the number of migraines or headaches you experience? These are just a few of the questions to consider when engaging with your employer if you are struggling with issues related to migraines and/or headaches in the workplace. 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must consider providing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, absent undue hardship.  Individuals experiencing migraines and headaches who meet the ADA’s definition of disability may be entitled to reasonable accommodations that will assist them in performing their essential functions. 

Let’s look at an example:

Elwood works in a small office environment with limited space where he struggles to meet attendance and performance standards. Elwood never disclosed his disability before, but knew the pain related to his migraines was impacting his ability to focus and attend work regularly. He called JAN to ask how he needed to disclose his disability and what accommodations would allow him to keep his job. After discussing disclosure guidance and the basics of sufficient medical documentation, we were able to discuss reasonable accommodations – JAN’s expertise. 

After a consultant at JAN started talking to him about his situation and asking questions, Elwood quickly identified that he most often developed headaches in the midafternoon, that they typically occurred after long periods of computer work, and that they typically lasted at least 1, but up to 2 days. With that information, we started brainstorming potential modifications that may help. Some accommodation ideas we discussed were a schedule modification, a private space, changes to computer settings, modifying his breaks, and some anti-glare solutions. Elwood took this new information to his employer, who sat down to discuss options that could work for both sides’ needs. 

All accommodations are dependent on a host of factors (employer resources, number of employees, undue hardship, etc.). Luckily for Elwood, his position allowed him to start earlier in the day and take his allotted breaks as needed. His employer provided both a cube shield and anti-glare technology to help meet his needs. There was no ability to provide a private workspace and because of the nature of the office and limited staff, the employer was not able to provide much flexibility with leave. The hope is that with the other accommodations in place, the frequency and intensity of Elwood’s symptoms will be reduced, which will allow him to meet the attendance requirements.

For more information, see:

Employee with headache