Working Well With Migraine – A Toolkit


An excerpt from the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), Migraine Patient Toolkit: Living Well with Migraine – Work Wellness, written by Melissa Laitner, PhD, SWHR Director of Science Policy

No matter when, where, or how you work, migraine can interfere with your productivity and ability to perform both at work and at school.

How to talk about migraine with your employer

Consider the benefits and risks of disclosure, and remember how you tell the story matters. Some managers and coworkers may be very supportive and go out of their way to accommodate your symptoms in helpful ways. Some workplaces may be less migraine friendly. Take the time to get to know the people you work with before making a decision about how much to share based on a careful consideration of the pros and cons.

$13B [is the] cost to employers for lost workdays [due to migraine].

Some individuals with migraine may qualify for workplace protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Migraine disease may be covered if it significantly impairs your ability to complete one or more major life activities. Talk to your employer, human resources office, or ADA representative at work to see whether you may qualify for accommodations under the ADA. Even if you do not meet the criteria for a disability, many workplaces will still make accommodations when and if they are able. Talk to your employer about how they may be able to help you succeed at work in spite of migraine symptoms.

Some accommodations your workplace may be able to provide

  • – Lighting adjustments
  • – Noise reduction or quiet rooms
  • – Teleworking
  • – Flexible work schedule
  • – Light filters for overhead or desk lights
  • – Antiglare filters for computer monitors
  • – White noise machine or headphones
  • – Air purification system
  • – Fragrance-free work policy
  • – Chair that supports good posture
  • – Choice of workspace

How to talk to about migraine with your peers

It may be useful to help those you work with understand your health needs. Small explanations may be useful in normalizing behaviors they might otherwise see as confusing. [See this script as an example:]

I need to bring a snack into meetings because when I get low blood sugar, it can trigger a migraine attack. If I need to eat it, I can step outside quickly. I wanted to let you know so you understand if that happens.

Start with small requests or changes at work to gauge how they go over with coworkers and supervisors. Seeing how coworkers react to you wearing blue light glasses at the computer or how your boss responds to questions about how to get a more ergonomic chair can help you plan to make bigger requests like working at home or taking flex time for health appointments.

Never feel pressured to explain more to coworkers than you are comfortable sharing. For some people, it can be helpful to share a lot about migraine. Others may feel uncomfortable explaining any part of their diagnosis or treatment. Consider your audience carefully, and remember that setting boundaries is perfectly acceptable.

Remember, it is OK to need time to recover

Talk to your physician if a note from them would be useful in obtaining accommodations at work.

Understand when you can and cannot use leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA covers workers who are sick or who need to take time to take care of sick family members. FMLA will typically provide 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave with continuation of insurance coverage for individuals with a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform essential work responsibilities.

90% of people with migraine feel they cannot function normally at work when they have an attack.

FMLA can be very useful for individuals managing migraine, but it is only applicable for covered employers and eligible employees. Talk to your employer or find out more about FMLA online.

View SWHR’s entire Migraine Patient Toolkit: Living Well With Migraine, which includes additional resources across areas such as social wellness and emotional wellness.

This toolkit was published with permission from the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), 2020. It is a project of SWHR’s Interdisciplinary Network on Migraine, a diverse group of researchers, health care providers, patients, and health care opinion leaders working to educate and engage society about the burden of migraine.