Seasonal staff and migraines

Recently one of our younger staff called out sick with a "migraine" and it reminded me that summer was approaching. We hire about 100 seasonal summer staff for 3 months.

Every summer, we will have folks call in sick with "migraines". To me, it seems like an easy excuse although I know migraines are very real and can be extremely debilitating.

I want to weed out the folks who stayed up too late or watched too much TV and have a "headache" or are just tired from the true migraine sufferers.

One thought I had was to tell the summer staff at orientation that if they suffer migraines they can provide a doctor's note in advance so that we'll know they may need intermittent leave.

My understanding is that migraines generally don't just "appear" and that people that suffer from them usually have some history.

Any feedback on that approach or other advice?


  • 12 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I'm very leery of soliciting health information before the fact, especially singling out a particular condition. With the laws we operate under, you really can't make assumptions. I would certainly emphasize the need for reliability and good attendance when I am interviewing the candidates, ask if there is any reason they would need time off, and check references if they have them. If someone does have unjustified poor attendance, I think your only safe alternative is to fire them, which I realize doesn't help much with a short-term job.
  • I'm leery too but I can't put my finger on what I'm worried about.
  • Put your finger on your head and maybe it will come to you.
  • Speaking of migraines, we had two young guys call out sick with migraines today.
  • I know that migraines can come on suddenly, I started having them when I was in my late 20's and they continued off and on for probably ten years, then ended just as suddenly. I don't recall ever calling in sick to work because of a migraine, but that's probably because they generally used to strike when I was doing something enjoyable, like going on vacation or at a party (I remember one Valentine's Day banquet at my church where I spent most of the evening lying on the floor in a darkened Sunday School classroom in my fancy dress, trying not to move because if I did I knew I would throw up!) Unfortunately, I've know a lot of people who have no clue what a migraine really is and call any bad headache a migraine. I've known countless "migraine sufferers" who have worked here over the years and so far only know of two of them who have ever been diagnosed with actual migraines.

    All that aside, and even though I realize that migraines are a commonly overused excuse for calling in sick, I'm also leery about singling out a particular medical condition and asking for confirmation in advance of the employees ever calling off with that particular condition.
  • How would you feel about making a more general statement during orientation, something like, "if you have any extenuating circumstances that may prevent you from doing your job or even showing up for work, we encourage you to speak to your supervisor about them so that they are aware of the situation before the need for an absence arises." Then you could give some examples, such as, migraines, child care issues, schizophrenia, chronic narcolepsy, you get the idea. :)

    That way, you can address these on an individual basis rather than singling out any one condition.
  • What it boils down to is medical information is protected. It's none of the employer's business and cannot be considered in any employment decision unless it renders the employee unable to perform the requirements, including attendance, of the job. You should make it clear what you expect for attendance, e.g. no more than 2 or 3 days off during the summer. You can ask if there is any reason why an employee couldn't meet these requirements, but you can't assume a certain number of them are going to call in with migraine, even though that's been your past experience. Does it really make a difference if the person calls in frequently with migraine, child care issues or something else?

    If an employee callls in frequently with the same reason, you could explain to them that they are not meeting your attendance requirements, but if they can provide documentation, you would consider making an exception. Just be sure to treat them all equally. A seasonal employee wouldn't work enough hours to qualify for FMLA leave, but you probably would have to consider the ADA. Poor attendance is very rarely required as an accomodation even then. We do have a poicy that requires a doctor's note to come back to work after 3 days of absence.

    I know it's frustrating when you think someone is lying to you about the reason for not coming to work (many of our employees don't even give a reason when they call in), but there is little you can do about it as long as they are meeting your overall requirements for attendance.
  • I agree that singling out one type of illness regardless of whether its common isn't a good approach. I may try something like what needcoffee suggested and include "migraines" as an example.

    Part of what I am seeing is a general attitude that says "If I don't feel good, I shouldn't have to come to work."
  • Coffee is right, and so is kdigangi.

    Let them know your attendance expectations, and then let them know again. Explain that others count on them to be there, and that they should always come in unless they are contagious or UNABLE to work.

    Good luck!
  • I hate it when you guys don't let me just do what I want.
  • Gosh. It's almost like we're married (shudder).
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