Are Migraine Headaches Disabilities Under the ADA?

Mrs. Hudson, my second grade teacher in Rochester, New York, didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Regardless of your complaint, she always had the same answer, “We all have our own crosses to bear. Move along.”

Paste pot dried out because your partner left the top off? Same answer. You have to use the bathroom after you got your snowsuit on? Same answer. You’re afraid to step outside for recess because the snow is blowing so hard you can’t see six inches in front of your face? Same answer.

I remember spending many a recess with the other kids huddled by the entrance door because we were afraid of being lost in the snow like Laura Ingalls (Mrs. Hudson read The Long Winter to us during a particularly bad Rochester winter).

As an adult, I guess one of the crosses I bear is migraines.

So what’s the difference between a bad headache and a migraine? Migraine is a neurological disease with extremely incapacitating symptoms, like severe throbbing pain, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch, and smell, fatigue, and mental vagueness.

Migraines are pretty common too, affecting 39 million people in the U.S. and one billion people worldwide. More than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine.

While we still don’t understand what causes migraines and there is no cure, there are often controllable and uncontrollable triggers. Examples of controllable triggers include lighting, smells, noise, disruptions in sleep patterns, and certain foods. Examples of uncontrollable triggers are hormones, weather, and air pressure.

For the last 15 or so years, I have averaged about six to seven migraine days a month. If you asked my husband and kids how our family life is affected by migraines, I bet they would tell you that I am more easily annoyed and angered when I have a migraine. My husband would probably tell you how many days a month he comes home from work to assume full responsibility for the “second shift.” My kids could probably tell you of times when we cancelled a fun outing because their mom couldn’t drive.

It’s not all bad for my kids. The screen rules go out the window when I have a migraine.

Difficult, yes, but I have never really thought of it as a disability. Sure, migraines clearly affect my family life (and work when I have to work from home or postpone a work project until I feel better). But it’s not like being in a wheelchair or being blind or deaf. Those are far harder crosses to bear in life.

Are migraines disabilities under the American with Disabilities Act (the ADA)?

Are migraines disabilities under the ADA?

Not surprisingly, the ADA does not list all of the medical conditions that are considered “disabilities.”

Under the ADA, a person has a “disability” if he or she has a physical or mental condition that limits one or more major life activities, including working.

Bottom line, some people with migraines will have a disability under the ADA and some will not. How do you know if your migraines are a disability? If your migraine episodes are debilitating to the point of impairing your ability to work, they are most likely a disability under the ADA.

If your migraines are considered a disability under the ADA, what accommodations could you ask your employer to make?

Assuming your migraines would be considered a disability under the ADA, and your employer has more than 15 employees, what accommodations could you request?

The focus here is on accommodations aimed at the controllable triggers of migraines, specifically, lighting, smells, noise, and disruptions in sleep patterns.

Here are some ideas:

  • Add anti-glare filter to your computer.
  • Add florescent light filters to the lights in your workspace.
  • Allow telecommuting when you are experiencing a migraine.
  • Move your workspace to a more private area or away from high traffic areas.
  • Provide you with a noise cancelling headset.
  • Allow for a flexible schedule when you are experiencing a migraine.
  • Ask the other employees not to wear fragrances.
  • Don’t mandate your attendance at after-work social functions.

Remember, your employer is not a mind-reader. Under the ADA you must make a formal request for an accommodation.

What is The Law Mother going to do?

Nothing, because lucky for me, for the past thirteen years, I have had a flexible schedule and the ability to work from home. Problem solved.

But I know not everyone is as fortunate. If I am ever again in a more structured corporate environment, I will request the accommodations I discussed above.

Do you have a “cross to bear” that interferes with your ability to do your job? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Disclaimer: This website is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this website you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.








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