Whether you’re an employee with Migraine yourself or an employer with a great employee worth retaining, this list of accommodations can help you find a winning solution. Higher productivity and fewer missed days can be achieved by simply reducing the workplace Migraine triggers and providing simple accommodations.
Employees With Migraine Are Hiding in Plain Sight
People with Migraine are often hiding in plain sight at work. Because Migraine is an invisible illness, most bosses have no idea when employees are in pain.
Employees are often conditioned to hide attacks out of fear of criticism, discrimination, demotion, or lost opportunities. According to Robert Shapiro M.D., a neurologist at the University of Vermont and past president of Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy, only 1 in 5 bosses thinks Migraine is a legitimate reason for an employee to call in sick.
It’s no wonder employees with Migraine hide their condition.
The Bottom Line: How Much Will It Cost?
Many employers express concern that accommodations will cost too much money, or set an unmanageable precedent for employees with other health issues. The reality is that workplace accommodations aren’t that expensive, and most don’t have to be widely broadcasted to be effective.
A better question: Can you afford to NOT offer accommodations to people with Migraine?
In a tight job market, it makes practical sense to retain good people with reasonable tweaks than risk turnover when people with Migraine leave.
The bigger issue for employers, says researcher Brian Gifford, PhD with Integrated Benefits Institute, author of a 2013 study, Sharing the Pain: The Productivity of Employees with Migraines and Chronic Severe Headaches: productivity losses. This costs employers in the form of both presenteeism (on the job underperformance) and absenteeism (calling in sick).
Which Accommodations Make Sense
There are five general categories of workplace accommodations: Scent Protection, Audio Protection, Flexibility, Escape Rooms, and Reduced Light. We’re calling these The SAFER Plan because it makes for a safer workspace for employees.
For employers, The SAFER Plan reduces the risk of turnover and productivity losses, saving money. It’s a win-win.
Before making any changes, discuss which triggers are specific to each employee; Migraine triggers vary from person to person. If you’re an employer, learn more about what causes Migraine and common Migraine triggers here.
The SAFER Plan for Employees with Migraine: 19 Reasonable Accommodations for the Workplace S – Scent Protection
Why it matters: people with Migraine are very sensitive to strong smells, such as perfumes, petroleum, chemical cleaners, paint and smoke. At a minimum, these scents will distract many from their work.
For some, exposure to strong scents can trigger an attack that can last for days or even send them to the emergency room. People in favor of fragrance-free workplaces believe their right to earn a living should be prioritized over a co-worker’s right to wear their favorite cologne.
1 – Request that employees voluntarily refrain from wearing fragrances
2 – Move the employee to an area where the fragrances are not as strong
3 – Provide air purification systems
4 – Implement a fragrance-free policy
A – Audio Protection
Sound sensitivity is escalated when a person with Migraine is experiencing an attack. Very loud, repetitive sounds can also trigger attacks for some people.
Construction sites, factories, theaters, concerts, hospitals, classrooms, and retail environments can all be too loud for some people with Migraine. Fortunately, there are some relatively easy and inexpensive ways to manage sound in the workplace.
5 – Move the employee to a more private area or away from high traffic areas
6 – Provide an environmental sound machine to help mask distracting sounds
7 – Provide noise-canceling headsets
8 – Provide sound absorption panels
9 – Encourage coworkers to keep non-work related conversation to a minimum
F – Flexibility
Because Migraine attacks are so unpredictable, people who suffer often work ahead in anticipation of an unpleasant surprise. Employers that offer flexible schedules and work locations reap the benefits in terms of loyalty, productivity, and retention.
The COVID-19 pandemic made it crystal clear that employees can be productive while working from home. Flexible work arrangements, like an option to work from home, can go a long way in maximizing productivity without putting your employees’ health at risk.
10 – Provide flexible leave when the employee is experiencing a Migraine attack
11 – Allow the employee to telework when experiencing an attack
12 – Do not mandate attendance at after-hours social functions if an employee is affected by a disruption in sleep patterns
E – Escape Options
That ladies’ room vestibule or broom closet might be just the ticket when a Migraine attack happens at work. Most people report that resting in a dark, quiet room can help — offering enough relief to make it through the work day or keep an attack from worsening.
13 – Provide the employee with a dark, private area to go to when experiencing a Migraine attack
14 – Arrange for a ride home, if necessary, via Uber/Lyft, a cab, or a co-worker
R – Reduced Light
A nearly universal Migraine trigger: bright lights, including fluorescents, headlights, and computer screens. Not all light is created equal in the Migraine brain: blue light is the worst and can be blocked by an FL-41 tinted lens just for Migraine.
Painful light sensitivity, known as photophobia, can be managed for a single employee or within an entire workspace.
15 – Add fluorescent light filters to existing fluorescent lights to create more natural lighting
16 – Provide an anti-glare filter for their computer monitor
17 – Provide a liquid crystal display monitor that has a better refresh rate
18 – Move employee to a private area to allow for personal adjustment to appropriate lighting
19 – Allow the employee to wear sunglasses or anti-glare glasses in the work area
Sample Workplace Situations and Solutions
An administrator who works in a cubicle setting was experiencing Migraine attacks that were triggered by the noise level; she was located in a high traffic area by the copy machine. The employer accommodated this employee by moving her to an area with less traffic and providing a sound machine.
A teacher experienced menstrual Migraine attacks each month, aggravated by bright classroom lights and loud students. Her principal allowed her to dim the lights on those days she was at the highest risk and brought in a teacher’s aide 1-2 days each month to relieve her when she needed to rest for a few hours in a dark room.
A computer programmer found his Migraine attacks were triggered by the noise level in his cubicle and the overhead fluorescent lighting. As an accommodation, his employer provided him with a noise-canceling headset, disabled the fluorescent light above his cubicle, and provided natural task lighting.
A human resource representative had Migraine attacks several times a month, which prevented her from working. As an accommodation, the employer provided unpaid flexible leave after all of her paid leave was exhausted.
An assembly line worker often experienced Migraine attacks that were triggered by various fragrances. The employees around him often wore overwhelming perfumes that caused him to have an attack. As an accommodation, the employer asked other employees to voluntarily refrain from wearing fragrances. The employee was also moved to a part of the assembly line where the fragrances were not as strong.
An accountant had Migraine attacks about twice a week, which prevented him from coming to work. As an accommodation, the employer allowed this employee to work from home when he had an attack. If his pain was too severe to work from home, the employee was allowed to use comp time.
Employees with Migraine are resilient, hardworking, creative, and flexible, thanks to their experiences living with an unpredictable disease. A few workplace accommodations to help them manage their exposure to Migraine triggers can go a long way in retaining productivity. Even better, most of these accommodations are inexpensive — or even free.
Consider adopting one or more of these accommodations in your workplace. One in 4 households includes someone with Migraine, so you really can’t afford not to.
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Image: Getty Images
Updated January 2021 with COVID-19 information and new photo
The post 19 Ways To Accommodate an Employee With Migraine appeared first on Migraine Again.
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