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FMLA for Migraine: Your Rights and Responsibilities

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The unpredictability and severity of migraine attacks can significantly affect your ability to work. Considering the stigma and lack of awareness around the condition, it is not always easy to justify taking time off.

Fortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) recognizes the challenges posed by chronic conditions like migraine, offering protections and accommodations to help you manage your health while maintaining your professional life.

Understanding FMLA

FMLA was created to help employees balance their work and health needs without fear of losing their job. It’s particularly relevant for chronic conditions like migraine.

It gives eligible employees the right to unpaid leave with job security for specific family and medical reasons.

To qualify, you must work for a covered employer and meet specific criteria regarding employment duration and hours worked.

Key Provisions of FMLA

  • Leave entitlement: Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in 12 months.
  • Job protection: FMLA guarantees your return to the same or an equivalent job after your leave.

Employer Coverage and Employee Eligibility

FMLA covers public agencies, schools, and private sector employers with 50 or more employees.

You must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and clocked at least 1,250 hours over the past year.

FMLA for Migraine

Under FMLA, a serious health condition requires inpatient care or continuing treatment under a health care provider. Migraine attacks, particularly if they are chronic or debilitating, often fit this definition due to the need for ongoing medical treatment and the incapacitation they can cause.

If your migraine episodes are frequent and severe enough to prevent you from working, you may be eligible for FMLA leave. This is especially relevant if your migraine episodes require you to take time off from work for doctor’s appointments, treatments, or recovery.

You will need a medical certification from your health care provider to qualify for FMLA leave due to migraine. This certification should detail the nature of your condition, your need for treatment, and the expected duration of your incapacity.

Qualifying for FMLA Due to Migraine

This streamlined approach focuses on the key steps and requirements to successfully navigate the FMLA process for migraine.

  • Medical certification: Obtain a medical certification from your health care provider. It should detail your migraine diagnosis, the frequency and intensity of attacks, and how they affect your performance.
  • Serious health condition criteria: Ensure the documentation illustrates that your migraine requires inpatient care or ongoing treatment, categorizing it as a serious health condition under FMLA.
  • Communication with employer: Present this certification to your employer, clearly communicating your need for leave and the expected frequency of your absences.
  • Renewal and confidentiality: Be prepared for the annual renewal of medical certification, and remember that your employer must keep your medical information confidential.

Intermittent Leave for Migraine

Intermittent leave under FMLA for managing migraine allows you to take leave in separate, non-consecutive periods for each migraine episode. This type of leave is particularly suited to the unpredictable nature of migraine, as it provides the flexibility to take time off only during the occurrence of an attack. You can use intermittent leave for a few hours, a day, or several days, depending on the severity and duration of your migraine episodes, without needing a continuous, extended leave of absence.

Under FMLA, a reduced leave schedule for migraine enables you to work a lighter or modified schedule when migraine episodes arise. Instead of taking an entire day off, you can reduce your work hours when experiencing a migraine attack, allowing for a more adaptable approach to managing your work and health.

Applying for FMLA Leave

This streamlined approach ensures you meet all requirements for FMLA leave due to migraine.

  • Notify employer: Inform your employer about your need for FMLA leave as soon as possible, ideally with at least 30 days’ notice.
  • Complete forms: Fill out any FMLA-related forms provided by your employer.
  • Medical certification: Submit the required medical certificate from your health care provider.
  • Maintain communication: Keep in touch with your employer, especially if updates or additional documentation are needed.

Employer Responsibilities

When you request FMLA leave for migraine, employers must acknowledge the FMLA leave request and provide relevant information or forms.

The law requires them to keep all medical information confidential.

Employers must inform you whether the leave is approved under FMLA and outline any terms or conditions.

Rights and Protections Under FMLA

When taking FMLA leave for migraine, your position is protected, and you can return to the same or an equivalent job after your leave.

Your health insurance benefits continue as if you were working, and you’re safeguarded against discrimination or retaliation for taking FMLA leave.

These rights ensure job security and fair treatment while managing your health through FMLA leave.

Job Restoration After FMLA Leave

Upon returning from FMLA leave for migraine, you are entitled to be reinstated to your original job or an equivalent position with the same pay, benefits, and terms of employment.

This guarantees job continuity and stability after your health-related absence.

Challenges and Solutions

This table outlines the common challenges faced while applying for FMLA leave due to migraine and practical solutions to address them.

Challenges Solutions
Understanding FMLA rights and requirements Seek guidance from HR, legal advisors, or employee rights organizations.
Communication with employer Maintain open communication, clearly explain your situation, and provide regular updates.
Gathering medical documentation Collaborate with your health care provider for accurate and complete documentation.
Intermittent leave management Keep detailed records of your leave usage and update your employer regularly.
Employer resistance or lack of awareness Educate your employer about migraine as a serious health condition and seek external support if needed.
Returning to work post-leave Discuss a return-to-work plan with your employer, including any needed accommodations.


Addressing Employer Concerns

When addressing employer concerns regarding FMLA leave for migraine:

  • Provide clear information: Explain how migraine affects your work and the necessity of FMLA leave.
  • Offer reassurance: Assure your employer of your commitment to your role and discuss plans for managing work during your absence.
  • Keep open communication: Regularly update your employer about your condition and expected return date.

Handling Denials and Disputes

This table outlines effective strategies for addressing challenges in the event of FMLA leave denial or disputes, primarily related to migraine management.

Challenges Solutions
Understanding the reason for the denial Request a clear explanation for the denial to guide your next steps.
Providing additional documentation Collaborate with your health care provider to provide additional information or clarification.
Internal resolution efforts Resolve the dispute through HR or a designated FMLA coordinator, using clear communication and providing additional evidence.
Legal consultation Consult with an employment law attorney for advice on rights and legal actions.
Filing a complaint with the DOL If other resolutions fail, file a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
Seeking support from advocacy groups Connect with advocacy groups for guidance, resources, and advice on handling FMLA disputes.


Understanding how FMLA applies to migraine can empower you to manage your condition without worrying about job security. It provides a framework for you to address your health needs while maintaining your professional responsibilities, offering peace of mind that your career is protected as you navigate the challenges of living with migraine.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions that might arise when navigating FMLA for migraine:

Can I use FMLA leave for migraine-related doctor’s appointments?

Yes, you can use FMLA leave for medical appointments related to your migraine condition, including consultations, treatments, and follow-up care.

What if my employer requests more medical information?

Your employer can request additional information for clarification but cannot ask for more than what the FMLA certification requires. It’s best to provide the necessary details within the scope of FMLA regulations.

Are there any alternatives if I’m not eligible for FMLA leave?

If you’re not eligible for FMLA, consider discussing other options with your employer, such as a modified work schedule or unpaid leave. Additionally, check if your condition qualifies for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

How soon should I return to work after a migraine episode under intermittent FMLA leave?

You should return to work as soon as possible, following the guidelines set by your health care provider. Always communicate with your employer about your expected return.

Getty image by pixdeluxe

Originally published: November 14, 2023
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