At first reading, this proposal may sound like a terrible idea. After all, if companies screen for migraines then, even despite the Equality Act which bans workplace discrimination against those who have a disability (suffering from chronic migraine is a disability), won’t companies just find excuses to get rid of employees who suffer from migraines since they may need more time off than people who don’t?
While this is certainly a fear that is well-founded. Despite the law, there are many migraine sufferers who have stories of being discriminated against, and even losing their jobs due to their migraines. However, there could also be significant positives to companies screening their employees for migraines.
When the Spanish Postal Service implemented a migraine management program which involved a routine voluntary health screening survey, researchers tracking the impact of this program found that there were significant positive results.
Those employees who completed the survey and reported migraine symptoms were asked to visit their branch’s Occupational Health Office for an evaluation by a physician. If they met the formal migraine diagnostic criteria they were then offered preventative medications, medications for acute treatment of attacks, and/or counselling sessions in which a doctor explained lifestyle and diet factors which can trigger or increase migraine attacks.
After the study was launched it was found that employee absences due to migraines fell by 53%, and the productivity levels on days when workers experienced migraine attacks went up from 59% to 94.8%. This meant that there was a total reduction in productivity costs from €34.50 per migraine per employee down to €4.60 per migraine per employee!
Linked to these remarkable results is the fact that migraines are currently undiagnosed and undertreated in at least 50% of patients, and less than 50% of migraine patients consult a physician. Not knowing that they have migraines means that sufferers cannot receive treatment and so the number of attacks they have will probably not go down and days of absence are taken which, if the migraine sufferer was receiving treatment and seeing a decrease in the number of and intensity of their attacks, might not need to happen.
It may not be ideal in all ways, but screening employees for migraines may help unknown sufferers who would not otherwise discover that what they were suffering from was migraines, to get the help they deserve.