How to help employees sidelined by migraines

Recently, a professional football coach was sidelined from a prime-time game due to a severe migraine. While the condition made headlines that week, an employee missing work due to a migraine is a fairly common occurrence in your clients’ workplaces.

The impact of migraines on the workplace is staggering. Consider that migraines are the 6th most disabling illness in the world, and nearly 1 in 4 U.S. households include someone who experiences migraines, according to The Migraine Research Foundation.

Migraines often pose a challenge for employers, as they can be unpredictable and may be the result of different sensory triggers. Employees with migraines often exhibit presenteeism, or have higher use of intermittent leave and may miss work because of their severity. For you and your clients, knowing the triggers and understanding how to provide accommodations can potentially curb the on-set of migraines and help boost employee productivity overall.

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The triggers for migraines can vary significantly. Migraines may be an after-effect of a stroke or brain injury, or could arise due to sensory factors. Fluorescent lights, certain scents, frequent computer use or even noises can cause a migraine.

While often unpredictable, it’s important for employers to understand the potential causes of migraines and how employees can be impacted. Employees who experience migraines may have days where the condition can get in the way of productivity, or they may feel lingering effects of a migraine for a few days after its on-set.

Providing support to employees
Supporting employees who experience migraines through workplace accommodations is to an employer’s advantage. While there will may be days that an employee experiencing a migraine can’t come into work, employers can establish accommodations that can help prevent migraines or even help mitigate an employee’s symptoms and increase his or her productivity.

For example, simple workplace changes can help reduce migraine triggers. This could include providing task lighting or replacing fluorescent light bulbs over an employee’s desk, or providing noise-canceling headphones that can reduce the decibels or pitch of noises that may disturb an employee. Intermittent breaks or short rest periods away from the workspace might also help. Depending on the employee’s job function, developing a work-from-home plan to help if he or she is experiencing lingering side effects can help increase productivity.

I recently helped with a successful accommodation for an office worker who suffered a stroke. Her migraines were triggered in part due to fluorescent lighting above her cubicle, and we needed to find a way to address her condition without affecting adjoining workstations. To do that, I worked with the employer’s facilities services group to find a protective cover that could be placed over her cube to shield her from some of the lighting. We provided her with task lighting on her desk and implemented low-wattage lights in the area surrounding her desk. This helped her light sensitivity and allowed her to work more productively.

Thinking through accommodations and providing resources isn’t something you and your client have to do alone. A consultant from your disability carrier can analyze the employee’s job function, workspace and medical condition and then work together with you, the employer and the employee to determine appropriate accommodations. This can help make sure an employee is supported in the workplace and triggers that could set off a migraine are removed from the workplace.

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