As 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.