migraineThe complex issue of dealing with an employee’s medical condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ended up recently before a federal court judge who ruled that the plaintiff’s complaint had stated a claim for relief.

The plaintiff alleged that her migraine headaches constituted a disability entitling her to a reasonable accommodation. According to her lawsuit, the company terminated her employment for “excessive absenteeism” despite the fact that only four of her eleven absences between January and May were attributable to her medical condition. Since the plaintiff’s headaches usually lasted less than one day, and she made up missed work time the following day, the employer believed that she did not require a reasonable accommodation.

The federal court disagreed, in effect finding that a violation of the ADA might exist.

ADA definition of a disability

For a condition to be defined as a disability under the ADA, it must “substantially limit” a “major life activity.” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations define “substantially limit” to mean that a person is “significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills and abilities.”  Plaintiff argued that her migraine headaches, though only affecting her occasionally, “substantially limit” her ability to work.

The Court noted that, depending on the facts, migraines may be considered a disability and, thus, Plaintiff set forth sufficient facts to establish a plausible claim at the initial stage of the pleadings.

Under the ADA, reasonable accommodation may include:

  • acquiring or modifying equipment or devices,
  • job restructuring,
  • part-time or modified work schedules,
  • reassignment to a vacant position,
  • adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies,
  • providing readers and interpreters, and
  • making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

It is a violation of the ADA to fail to provide reasonable accommodation, unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of a business. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would require significant difficulty or expense.