FMLA for Migraine

The 20th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) this year (2013) seems like a perfect opportunity to provide a basic overview of the law and how it can help Migraine patients.

The FMLA was enacted by Congress in 1993 to protect workers who become ill themselves, who become parents (either through adoption or birth), or who have ill family members in need of care. The FMLA applies to private, local, state and federal employees as long as certain requirements are met.

These requirements are:

  • The employee had 12 months of employment within the previous seven years;
  • The employee worked 1,250 hours during the 12 month period; AND
  • The employee worked at a site with 50 employees or where his or her employer has 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

The FMLA provides employees who are covered by the law up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12 month time period for the following circumstances:

  • A “serious health condition” that renders you unable to perform the functions of your position (Where most people reading this article fall);
  • The birth or adoption of a child or placement of a child in foster care;
  • The need to care for a parent, spouse or child with a “serious health condition”; or
  •  A qualifying circumstance relating to military duty.

Note that FMLA leave is unpaid. While you may be able to use paid leave otherwise available to you during this time to maintain your income (such as sick or vacation leave) the most significant protection of the FMLA is maintaining your employment status when you need to be gone from work for covered purposes—not your income. The other big benefit of the FMLA is that your employer must maintain your employer-provided health insurance benefits during your leave. Finally, covered employees are generally entitled to return to a position with the same pay, benefits, duties and terms as before the leave was taken.

Your ability to use vacation or sick leave concurrently with your FMLA leave depends entirely on your employer’s policies and your ability to comply with them. This usually comes up with regard to the notice required in employer leave policies. Even if you can’t use your paid time off, however, if you’re entitled to FMLA leave, you can take it.

One incredibly beneficial aspect of the law for both episodic and chronic Migraine patients is that the 12 weeks of leave can be taken all together or periodically as need. It can also be taken on a part-time basis.

As an employee seeking to take advantage of FMLA leave, you must give your employer at least 30 days notice, if the reason for needing leave is foreseeable. You must provide as much notice as is practicable if the reason you’re seeking FMLA leave is unforeseeable.

Finally, employers can require doctor certification of your condition initially and a re-certification every six months for conditions of an ongoing nature.

FMLA leave is an important protection for the Migraine patients covered by it. In particular, for those Migraineurs who find their employer-provided leave being eaten up by missed days of work and still need more time off due to the debilitating nature of migraine disease, the FMLA can be an important safety net.

Diana Lee is an attorney, Migraine patient advocate and educator and Migraineur. She blogs at and She runs a bimonthly Migraine Chat that provides support and information for migraine patients and a monthly Headache and Migraine Disease Blog Carnival for other headache disorders bloggers.

© Diana Lee, 2013

Last updated February 9, 2013.