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FMLA for Migraines: Guidelines and Best Practices

With over 12% of Americans experiencing migraine headaches, there’s a good chance someone in your workplace is a migraine sufferer. If an employee experiences chronic migraines, they may be entitled to a leave of absence for migraines under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal employment law.

Qualifying for FMLA leave isn’t automatic, and your employee will need to meet some eligibility requirements before they can take FMLA leave for migraines. Here’s what employers need to know about FMLA for migraines, and how you can make your workplace a more comfortable place for migraine sufferers.

What Is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that entitles employees to a leave of absence if certain conditions and eligibility requirements are met. According to the Department of Labor (, some qualifying reasons include:

  • An employee’s own serious health condition
  • To care for a family member with a serious medical condition
  • To welcome a new child into the family by birth, foster care, or adoption
  • To respond to a qualifying exigency related to military service

Under FMLA, employees are entitled to a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year across all qualifying conditions. These 12 workweeks can be taken all at once, or in  smaller increments over a 12-month period, depending on the condition.

FMLA leave is job-protected leave, which means that the employee has the right to return to the same or a similar position under FMLA return to work guidelines.

Who Is Eligible for FMLA for Migraines?

To determine if an employee is eligible for FMLA for migraines, you’ll first need to find out if they’re eligible for FMLA at all. To start with, eligible employees must work for a covered employer, which the DOL defines as:

  • Public or private schools and school boards
  • Local, state, and federal government agencies
  • Private-sector employers with a minimum number of employees (at least 50 within 20 or more workweeks in a calendar year)

In addition, the employee must meet their own eligibility requirements:

  • Have worked for their employer for 12 months
  • Have performed 1,250 hours of work in the past year
  • Work at a location with a minimum number of employees in a 75-mile radius

Now, you can determine whether an employee qualifies for FMLA for migraines. Since FMLA applies to chronic and ongoing conditions, an occasional headache may not be enough to qualify for FMLA. But if the employee has chronic migraine symptoms that interfere with their ability to work, they may be eligible to take FMLA leave.

Employees who take leave for migraines have the same rights and responsibilities as an employee on any other type of FMLA-qualifying leave.

FMLA for Migraines: Guidelines and Best Practices

FMLA for migraines: tired employee at an office

A migraine is a type of headache that can occur without warning and may last for hours or days. Employees may not always know in advance when they’ll need to take FMLA leave for a migraine, which can present some challenges for your HR team.

By following these four best practices, you can support your employees suffering from this neurological disorder while complying with your obligations under federal law.

Be Proactive

An employee who suffers from migraines may not know they’re entitled to FMLA leave. If an employee requests ordinary sick leave, but mentions that they’re experiencing a migraine headache, you may be obligated to initiate the FMLA leave process.

This may be true even if the employee has already taken time off work. In some cases, you can designate FMLA leave retroactively based on new medical information.

Request Documentation

Ask your employee for a medical certification from their healthcare provider to document their condition. Use FMLA certification forms to standardize the process, and store them in a secure leave management platform to comply with FMLA confidentiality rules.

For chronic conditions, you can require employees to provide a recertification form on an ongoing basis, as long as it’s no more than once every 30 days.

Provide Intermittent Leave

Since migraine attacks are unpredictable, it’s unlikely an employee will need to take 12 weeks of leave all at once. It’s more likely they’ll need to take intermittent FMLA leave, which allows them to work a reduced schedule or take leave in smaller increments.

Once intermittent FMLA leave has been approved, the employee can take time off on short notice without having to submit a new leave of absence request.

Consider ADA Accommodations

Some conditions that meet the criteria for FMLA also meet the criteria of the Americans with Disabilities Act ( The question is whether the employee’s migraines are severe and substantial enough to qualify as an impairment under the ADA.

If so, you’ll need to engage in the ADA interactive process to identify any reasonable accommodations you can provide the employee to allow them to do their job.

How to Support Migraine Sufferers in the Workplace

Employees who qualify for FMLA for migraines have the legal right to take time off work, and they shouldn’t be discouraged from doing so. Still, there are certain steps you can take to make your workplace more comfortable for people who experience migraines that may reduce the frequency with which they need to take leave.

Here are three ways you can support workers who experience migraines.

Improve the Work Environment

According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraine symptoms can be caused or exacerbated by sensory triggers, including sounds, smells, and fluorescent lights.

By replacing fluorescent lights with migraine-friendly alternatives and providing a break room where employees can escape these common triggers, employees may be better able to cope with their symptoms and less likely to experience severe migraines.

Provide a Flexible Schedule

Although FMLA allows for a reduced work schedule when it’s medically necessary, you can also just provide employees with a more flexible schedule to begin with. By letting employees set their own hours or work from home, they’ll have more leeway to work when they’re feeling well and face less pressure when they have a migraine.

Prioritize Employee Well-Being

Although migraine triggers vary from person to person, stress is a contributing factor for many migraine sufferers. By providing health insurance, paid parental leave, and other employee benefits, you can show employees that you care about their well-being and understand the importance of mental health in the workplace.

Use Pulpstream to Manage FMLA for Migraines

Employee taking a pill

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take time off work for certain qualifying medical conditions, including migraines. Since migraine attacks can be unpredictable, employees with migraines are more likely to take intermittent leave than to use up all 12 workweeks of FMLA leave at once.

Even in straightforward cases, your human resources team is responsible for gathering medical certifications and ensuring that you comply with FMLA regulations. By using a cloud-based leave management system like Pulpstream, you can allow employees to upload their own documents and store them in a secure, centralized location.

Pulpstream also makes it easy to track sick days, FMLA balances, and other types of leave, as well as the return-to-work process and ADA accommodations. Pulpstream’s no-code interface allows you to create automated workflows that integrate with other platforms, even if you don’t know how to use an API or write a line of code.

Request a demo today to see how Pulpstream can streamline FMLA leave!