Work & Disability: Don't Fall Through the Cracks

Megan Oltman Community Member August 14, 2009
  • Work SpaceAs I have been writing articles about your legal rights in working with Migraine disease, I've been getting a lot of questions from those who feel they are falling through the cracks in the legal system.

    On one hand, there are protections if Migraines interfere with your work somewhat; there's total disability at the other end if you can't work at all. What about that large area in between the two? This is an example of where legal advice ends and practical advice kicks in - the remedies available in the law won't necessarily help you choose how to live with the real-life situations you find yourself in.

     

    Maybe you have a good job, and you'd like to keep it, but you have Migraine disease, and that keeps you from showing up at the job consistently. If you're lucky, there are accommodations that your employer can make that will make it possible for you to keep on working full time. This is where the ADA comes into play, protecting your right to work with accommodations that make it possible to go on working.

     

    If your job description, or your set of triggers, or your Migraine frequency is such that there's no way to accommodate around them, you may qualify for FMLA and be able to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. At this point, you're keeping your job, but you are potentially taking a 25% cut in pay (if you spend 25% of your time on unpaid leave). This is definitely better than losing the job or going on disability for most of us.

     

    If you need more than 25% of your time off, you may apply for disability benefits. Your company, your union or professional association, or you personally may have private disability insurance that will compensate you for a partial or total disability. This could fill in the gap between full time employment and complete disability. A few lucky people may be able to continue in their jobs part-time while collecting partial disability benefits, but this would be entirely up to your employer and your particular disability insurance plan.

     

    If you can prove you are totally disabled, and your disability will continue for at least a year, you may qualify for Social Security Disability. If you can't work, disability is certainly better than having no income. It is an entitlement; you have worked for it and paid into the fund, and you ought to get it. However, it is a low rate of income to live on, and many people will find that, although they can't manage to work at their former job, they still don't qualify for Social Security Disability.

     

    To gain and keep any of these benefits or entitlements, you may have to fight for them. Every employer does not happily hand us the help and accommodations we need, and it can be cold comfort to be told we have to go to a lawyer or start a lawsuit. So what can we do to take care of ourselves in case we can't stay employed full-time? If you lose the job, you still need some income.

     

    Unfortunately, Migraine disease can have a very real impact on our careers and our earning capacity. There are plenty of people who find they cannot keep up with the schedule, or the stress, or the intellectual demands of their former job. They can't work full-time hours or regularly scheduled hours, but can still do productive work. There are plenty of people who are partly disabled, or mostly disabled, but don't qualify for disability income. They don't all have a spouse to support them, and even if they did, most families' budgets are based on two earners, not one. Let's look at some alternatives.

  •  

    Is your work something that you could do part-time, or as a substitute? Many professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, or health-care professionals, may be able to do substitute, per diem, or fill-in work for their professional colleagues. A steady load of this work can take a little while to build up, but is usually available if you're willing to look for it. Stay connected in your professional association and get the word out that you are available. Many solo practitioners or small firms will jump at the chance to use a qualified substitute or extra pair of trained hands when they are busy. If you have a college degree, you might also consider substitute teaching. Substitute teachers in large school districts may get called to teach almost every day, but don't have to go in every day to stay on the list.

     

    Approximately 20% of the American workforce works from home these days. When I started doing it in the early 1990's, it was less than 2%. Work-at-home jobs can be anything from regular jobs where you work for an employer, clock in on your computer, and work regular hours, to a huge variety of freelance and business opportunities. There are books, blogs, and web sites devoted to work-at-home opportunities. There are new professions such as virtual assistants, which have sprung up largely to serve those who work at home, comprised of those with secretarial or administrative or web skills, who make them available to others on a contract basis. Beware of get rich quick at home scams. Like any other job search, finding work at home will involve focusing in on something you can do and building skills and contacts in that area.

     

    I've been working from home since 1991, although I have had several part-time jobs at an actual job site during that time. I have worked quite successfully as a per diem attorney, I mediate for divorcing couples, I have done free-lance writing, taught school part time, worked retail part time, run a nearly full-time business as a business coach and a part-time on line business as a Migraine management coach. I've done a number of those things I've done simultaneously. It hasn't made me rich, and it has had its ups and downs, but it has enabled me to cope with chronic Migraine disease and chronic fatigue, raise two children, and still earn (most of that time) a living.

     

    I never applied for disability or tried to get accommodations from an employer, personally, though I have worked in those areas of the law. When the hours and stress of a full-time legal practice were triggering me into too many Migraines, I just quit. So I guess you could say I jumped into the crack, rather than falling through it. The best piece of advice I can give you is get as much support as you can. If you're going to work on your own, get a coach or a support group to help you stay on track. There is a life in between full time work and total disability, and there are lots of us out here living it who'd be happy to support you.

     

    ~ To the extent this sharepost contains legal information, it is legal education, not legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created. ~

  • © Megan Oltman, 2009

    Last updated August 13, 2009.

     

15 Comments
  • Gilda
    May. 02, 2010

    My SD alerts me to my migraines before they hit, which has been a real life saver for me.

     

    However, I've lost jobs over having migraines (some could last upwards of a week) before I got my SD.  My last job (that I quit because they wouldn't accommodate even with my doctor's note) I didn't have my SD yet, but they asked me when I gave them the accommodation...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    My SD alerts me to my migraines before they hit, which has been a real life saver for me.

     

    However, I've lost jobs over having migraines (some could last upwards of a week) before I got my SD.  My last job (that I quit because they wouldn't accommodate even with my doctor's note) I didn't have my SD yet, but they asked me when I gave them the accommodation note if I had told them I suffer from migraines when I applied for the job (excuse me, do I LOOK that stupid?  They'd not have offered the job in the first place if they knew).

     

    I'm in the process of looking for a new job, and don't know how to handle the fact that my SD goes with me wherever I go.  She's what makes it possible for me to lead something resembling a normal life.

     

    Any suggestions?

    • Megan Oltman
      May. 03, 2010

      Hi Gilda -

       

      How exciting that your service dog can alert you to Migraines - I've never heard a testimonial about that before.

       

      I agree that it might be a problem to interview with the service dog - you are alerting the potential employer to your medical condition, and while they are not allowed to discriminate against you in hiring, how would you...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Hi Gilda -

       

      How exciting that your service dog can alert you to Migraines - I've never heard a testimonial about that before.

       

      I agree that it might be a problem to interview with the service dog - you are alerting the potential employer to your medical condition, and while they are not allowed to discriminate against you in hiring, how would you ever prove it? It's easy enough for an employer to say that someone else was more qualified or a better match. Is it worth going to the interview without the dog - that is trading off the possibility of a Migraine without warning for the possibility of a job? At some point you will have to let them know, since the SD will be going to work with you, but perhaps you could wait until after you are hired?

       

      - Megan

    • Gilda
      May. 03, 2010

      That is indeed my concern about the "more qualified/better fit" claim by a prospective employer.

       

      I'm not naive enough to believe that this is necessarily the case.  Perhaps it's a healthy cynicism borne of life experience.  I hate being this way, but in this employment environment of three people being fired and one person being hired to do...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      That is indeed my concern about the "more qualified/better fit" claim by a prospective employer.

       

      I'm not naive enough to believe that this is necessarily the case.  Perhaps it's a healthy cynicism borne of life experience.  I hate being this way, but in this employment environment of three people being fired and one person being hired to do the work of all three, and at a lower base salary at that, I can read the handwriting on the wall.

    • Anonymous
      Amanda
      Apr. 23, 2012

      Hi Gilda,

       

      I'm in Canada and I too have a migraine alert dog. I mentioned my frequent and severe migraine attacks at my job interview, but was offered the job. Just two weeks after I started in my new job, I put in a request to accommodate my service dog. More than four weeks have gone by and I haven't heard anything back yet. However, my manager gave...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Hi Gilda,

       

      I'm in Canada and I too have a migraine alert dog. I mentioned my frequent and severe migraine attacks at my job interview, but was offered the job. Just two weeks after I started in my new job, I put in a request to accommodate my service dog. More than four weeks have gone by and I haven't heard anything back yet. However, my manager gave me a heads up today that the request will probably be denied, despite the fact that I furnished my request with a doctor's note and other supporting documentation that my dog is a legitimate service dog. If my request is denied, I will file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

       

      Amanda

  • D.
    D.
    Nov. 25, 2009

    I had to quit my job because of Migraines, and am trying to get individual insurance... I fear having migraines is going to get me denied.  Especially when I have seen a neuro, an orthopedic, ect.  CAT Scans, MRI, ect.  Never had to get insurance on my own before, always had good benefits with my job. Is this going to be a...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    I had to quit my job because of Migraines, and am trying to get individual insurance... I fear having migraines is going to get me denied.  Especially when I have seen a neuro, an orthopedic, ect.  CAT Scans, MRI, ect.  Never had to get insurance on my own before, always had good benefits with my job. Is this going to be a problem?  More frustration from Migraines!    

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Sep. 22, 2009

    I commented earlier and was so suprised to see a reply and it what free?  How wondweful, everything seems so hard and uphill.  I do beleive it is approached the time to retire on disability. I use 3 wks vac, 2 wk sick, and fmla hours.  I also have some mental health disorders for over 17 years, migraines my whole life. currently I have been...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    I commented earlier and was so suprised to see a reply and it what free?  How wondweful, everything seems so hard and uphill.  I do beleive it is approached the time to retire on disability. I use 3 wks vac, 2 wk sick, and fmla hours.  I also have some mental health disorders for over 17 years, migraines my whole life. currently I have been off 3 weeks due to pain in neck shoulder back. been to 4 types dr. Who do I go to? I will be retiring on ohio public employees retiremenr system not ss.

    thank you

  • brainpain
    Aug. 19, 2009

    I am in the situation of trying to work and manage my migraines.  I have had migraines for the last 25 years.  To add to the problem I had a brain tumor removed 5 years ago and I still have the migraines.  I find myself constantly pushing to get through the day in order to go home and crash.  I am currently able to use the intermittent FMLA...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    I am in the situation of trying to work and manage my migraines.  I have had migraines for the last 25 years.  To add to the problem I had a brain tumor removed 5 years ago and I still have the migraines.  I find myself constantly pushing to get through the day in order to go home and crash.  I am currently able to use the intermittent FMLA benefit.  I am able to take time to go to the doctors or have test done if it is related to the migraines and it is covered under that program.  I try to make sure that I only use it when I am at the point I can no longer function.  I seem to need it more lately and I am worried that since my company is an at will employer, who like every other company has down sized, I could be in a position to find myself out of work.  I have never thought of disabilty until recently and really don't care for the idea.  I would feel as thought the disease won the battle.  How protected am I by the FMLA program?  I am a Payroll Specialist so I am aware of the "rolling calendar" the system works on and I am well below that, but I am still concerned about fighting to keep my job.

  • betsyb
    Aug. 18, 2009

    Thanks, Megan, for a solid article with practical information! I guess there are a lot of different kinds of cracks for us to fall through and try to climb out of.

  • dlmw_58
    Aug. 18, 2009

    Hi Megan, what happens to the ones who have really never been able to hold a job down since they've had migraines from the age of 8 -12 yrs old? That would be me.

     

    I cannot say that I remember one single important event in my life that a migraine was not right there with me.

     

    School was not exactly a fun place to be, right from the start I was 'different'...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    Hi Megan, what happens to the ones who have really never been able to hold a job down since they've had migraines from the age of 8 -12 yrs old? That would be me.

     

    I cannot say that I remember one single important event in my life that a migraine was not right there with me.

     

    School was not exactly a fun place to be, right from the start I was 'different' than the other kids. To add to the mixture, I ended up with Rheumatic Fever and was in hospital for long periods of time.

     

    Now stir that all in together, and you come up with a 'half baked' girl!! ;)

     

    No matter what type of work I tried after colege, I just didn't fit in. Missing work several times in a month does not make for employee of the month!

     

    So, what I'm saying is, if we don't have the opportunity from the get go to work, we don't have the opportunity to draw any kind of income...or at least that is my experience here in good ol Canada.

     

    All this time, (I am 52 yrs old and not afraid to tell my age, silly me!) and no one could give me any straight answers on disability...why? because I was not employed?? mm, what happens if I would of been born is some other kind of disability, one that would be far more visable...bet I would of had some help along the way, long before now.

     

    Migraines and disability here in Canada, well, it feels like I don't have a leg to stand on...we are in limbo...too bad, too sad. Take a pill and get over it, attitude...at least from where I am, that is how things are.

     

    ...so we do fall between the cracks and get pushed asside along the way. We do the migraine shuffle sans frills.

     

    Hopefuly some day, I'll actually see some help for people who have migraine desease.

     

    We need more people in Canada that will stand up for us...if there is someone, I sure don't know about them!

     

    Keep up the good work,

     

    The 'half baked' girl/woman,

    Donna

    • Megan Oltman
      Aug. 18, 2009

      Hi Donna -

       

      I wish I had some answers for you. It sounds like in Canada, as in the US, disability income is hard to get and isn't much to live on if you do get it.  I do know of a few people in Canada who are on disability status for Migraines, but I don't know what the considerations are if you've never worked.

       

      Here in the US there are two...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Hi Donna -

       

      I wish I had some answers for you. It sounds like in Canada, as in the US, disability income is hard to get and isn't much to live on if you do get it.  I do know of a few people in Canada who are on disability status for Migraines, but I don't know what the considerations are if you've never worked.

       

      Here in the US there are two different types of government (Social Security) disability, one where eligibility is based on whether (and how much) you have worked and paid into the system (like insurance) and the other based on financial need.  This sets up another "crack" you could fall through, since there are people who haven't worked enough to qualify for one, but whose household resources may be too high to qualify for the other.

       

      All that said, and knowing how frustrating it can be to deal with bureaucracy, you still should be able to get some kind of straight answer about what it takes to qualify! Maybe time to insist on talking to a supervisor or getting a friend, advocate or even attorney (someone whose head isn't hurting) to do your insisting for you.

       

      - Megan

  • Alaura
    Aug. 16, 2009

    Megan,

     

    This is amazing info for me to have come across! I just started back to work with the new school year. I have not been doing well at all since my last hospital stay and this new school year is terrifying. The very first day, I had to take and injection just to get out of bed. I walked into the school and bam, florescent lights, new paint smells,...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    Megan,

     

    This is amazing info for me to have come across! I just started back to work with the new school year. I have not been doing well at all since my last hospital stay and this new school year is terrifying. The very first day, I had to take and injection just to get out of bed. I walked into the school and bam, florescent lights, new paint smells, lound noises. I was in misery. I push through the day and crash as soon as I leave. I was getting a little scared that I wouldn't keep up or be able to continue my job. It is great that I have some options to try first. I would probably qualify for disability, but I just can't fathom that. I would break if I got to the point of being trapped in my home waiting for a monthy pay check. What a relief to have some option to talk to my boss about and have hope for keeping my job! Thanks!

    • Megan Oltman
      Aug. 16, 2009

      Oh Alaura I'm so glad it's good timing for you to read this!  Be sure you read the other shareposts I linked to if you haven't already so you have a better sense of your range of options before you talk to your boss.

       

      Good luck!

       

      - Megan

  • Penguins94
    Aug. 15, 2009

    I am in the situation where I was forced out of my job because of my migraines.  I missed too much work so I got demoted to 2 hours a day at minimum wage and I live over 30 miles away one way.  Basically, I would have been spending money to keep that job. This is just the most recent of a list of jobs I have lost due to abscences from my migraines....

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    I am in the situation where I was forced out of my job because of my migraines.  I missed too much work so I got demoted to 2 hours a day at minimum wage and I live over 30 miles away one way.  Basically, I would have been spending money to keep that job. This is just the most recent of a list of jobs I have lost due to abscences from my migraines.  I am searching desperately to find something I can do from home on my schedule.  I have accepted the fact that I am unable to maintain a full time job with migraine disease.  However, I need an income in order to live.  If you have any suggestions of places to look or resources to read, I would be most appreciative.  Thank you.  Angela

    • Megan Oltman
      Aug. 15, 2009

      Angela - I am working on compiling a resource list for work at home which I will be posting on my own web site - www.freemybrain.com.  I hope to have that up in the next few weeks.  In the meantime here are just a few ideas for you: a blog you might want to look at is Work at Home Mom Revolution which lists a variety of work at home opportunities,...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Angela - I am working on compiling a resource list for work at home which I will be posting on my own web site - www.freemybrain.com.  I hope to have that up in the next few weeks.  In the meantime here are just a few ideas for you: a blog you might want to look at is Work at Home Mom Revolution which lists a variety of work at home opportunities, also About.com has a Home business page and newsletter you can sign up for which has some useful ideas.  I have heard several people talk about a company called Alpine Access which hires people to do customer service and call center work from home.  

       

      Good luck to you!

       

      - Megan

       

    • JKM
      JKM
      Jun. 18, 2010

      I am to that point of needing to apply for disability also.   I don't care whether you are a waitress, a teacher a nurse, physician, a attorney, or what your job is, you work hard and you are entitled to the benefits.   But its like your employer and the government thinks your wanting to take advantage of them.   Well frankly,...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      I am to that point of needing to apply for disability also.   I don't care whether you are a waitress, a teacher a nurse, physician, a attorney, or what your job is, you work hard and you are entitled to the benefits.   But its like your employer and the government thinks your wanting to take advantage of them.   Well frankly, I've worked for 30 + years as a RN,  and believe me disability is not making anything close to what I would make working, but for me it is the safety factor for my patients.   I do not want to harm anyone, I cannot function with these, I cannot drive, I have times when I faint with them.   I feel for people that are struggling with the pain and fear of job discrimination r/t their health problems.   We have a long way to go in this area.  I applaud people like Cindy McClain that are willing to stand up and talk about the necessity of funding for research and treatment modalities.  I just hope everyone here is like me holding on to each day and being thankful for those here that give us information and encouragement.

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