Know Your Rights: FMLA for Employees With Migraine

The Family and Medical Leave Act can help protect jobs for people with migraine who are unable to work. Read more to learn what FMLA is, who is eligible for it and how to register.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons. Knowing your job-protected rights is an important, yet often overlooked, aspect of living with migraine.

Diana Lee, JD, a migraine advocate living with chronic migraine, spoke at an AMF event about how those living with migraine can make use of FMLA.

What does FMLA cover?

The healthcare areas covered by FMLA are illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental conditions that involve inpatient care and continuous treatment by a healthcare provider. Migraine counts as continuous treatment.

Job protection is an important FMLA benefit. You won’t lose your job while you’re taking leave under FMLA. Another important advantage of FMLA is the continuation of benefits.

“While you’re out on leave, you’ll continue to have health insurance, which is really when you’re off work because of a situation with your health,” says Lee. “[The benefits] can be used on an as-needed basis, and they can be used indefinitely up to a 12-week limit.”

What FMLA does not provide is any form of paid leave. Your employer may offer paid time off, but FMLA does not provide for that. Check with your human resources manager, employee handbook or direct supervisor to find out if your employee benefits include paid leave.

Am I eligible for FMLA?

Eligibility for FMLA can depend on a few different factors. Workers are eligible for FMLA coverage if they have been employed by a covered employer for at least 12 months. In addition, you need to have worked at least 1,250 hours in 12 months prior to the request. You also need to work at a site where the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

Lee says that, generally, if you work remotely, you are eligible if the office you report to has 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of its location.

FMLA applies to private, local, state and federal employees as long as they meet certain requirements. This law protects eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period.

The businesses/employers covered by the Act are:

  • Public agencies
  • Private employers (with 50+ employees)
  • Federal government
  • Primary or secondary schools (public or private)

FMLA and Migraine

Migraine is an incurable neurological disease that can attack with very little warning. Employees with migraine have the same amount of protection under FMLA that an employee with another illness or disability would have.

Under some circumstances, employees may take FMLA leave on an intermittent or reduced-schedule basis. That means an employee may take leave in separate blocks of time or by reducing the time they work each day or week for a single qualifying reason.

Employees can take the 12 weeks of unpaid leave all at one time. They can also break it up into smaller chunks of time. For employees missing work due to migraine, they are more likely to end up taking a day here or there, as needed.

Under certain conditions, employees may choose to “substitute” accrued paid leave (paid time off that builds up over time), like sick time or vacation leave, to cover some or all of the FMLA leave period. Sometimes, employers may require employees to use their paid time off. An employee’s ability to substitute accrued paid leave is determined by the terms and conditions of the employer’s normal leave policy. Talk to your HR manager for details.

How do you file for FMLA?

To file for FMLA, you’ll need to follow your employer’s regular leave policies and provide notice. Employees generally must request leave 30 days in advance when the need for leave is expected. When the need for leave is expected less than 30 days in advance or is unexpected, employees must provide notice as soon as possible and doable under the circumstances.

Your employer needs to provide notice of employee rights, assess your eligibility for leave, provide written notice of rights and notify you in writing of additional information needed if they  are unable to make an eligibility decision.

When applying for FMLA, it’s important to advocate for yourself. Filing for FMLA using first-person language is a great way to use your own words. It can also help you describe what it’s like for you to live with migraine. “How you relate to [living with migraine] is your business and your right to think of as you see fit and what feels right to you,” Lee says.

Visit the Department of Labor’s website to learn more about the filing for FMLA and to download the necessary certification forms.

Certification Process

In this process you need to have your doctor complete a form for your condition. If there are things on the form that your doctor didn’t complete, they can ask you to go back and have those filled in.

“Make sure that you’re presenting an accurate, full picture of what it’s like for you living with migraine, because if you are debilitated by it and seeking FMLA leave, you want to make sure you’re making the best case for yourself,” Lee says.

Migraine can create severe disability and cause physical pain. Many of these symptoms fall in line with serious health conditions under the FMLA. Chronic migraine can hold back important functions and make it hard to perform activities, let alone function at a job. Thanks to the FMLA, people living with chronic migraine have rights that can help them keep their jobs. It can also give them time off when needed.

Understanding these rights can leave you feeling empowered. Learn more about FMLA and listen to Lee break down different FMLA scenarios by watching the full webinar here.

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.

Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.