Alison’s employer made reasonable adjustments for her

Alison Elmes is a teacher and the school she worked in was supportive in helping her manage her migraine

Alison Elmes

“I worked as a teacher in a school in the East Riding of Yorkshire. I worked there for 12 years and they could not have been more supportive of my terrible time with migraine, with which I was diagnosed at age 9. I am now 51 years old.

“In the beginning, 2002, I was referred to Occupational Health as part of the interview process where I was asked questions about my history of migraine, having included details in my job application. I was cleared for employment.

“In 2004, I moved into a windowless classroom that was lined with hot water pipes and with 32 computers, and it was like a hot house! My migraine days increased as heat is a trigger and led to time off work.

“I had ‘back to work’ interviews with the Head and she was really interested in what it was like and what set it off, as well as what she could do to help. She referred me back to Occupational Health and very quickly, they installed air conditioning, which was an absolute boon!

Moving classroom

“In 2007, I moved classrooms again – this time to a greenhouse type of room, with no air conditioning, and again, 32 computers and 4 printers as well as a big network hub. It was so cold in winter and stifling in summer as well as incredibly noisy due to the acoustics. The Head arranged for council specialists to come and monitor the noise and heat levels but they could not afford air conditioning.

“I had so many migraines and related sick days that I was starting to let kids down as they approached exams, and I was carted off home on numerous occasions, and even to hospital.

“A new Head helped to arrange a system of assistance and I was able to call down for help when I couldn’t cope (they installed a phone line for this purpose). I was clocking up 28 migraine days a month at that point and I was exhausted with the pain and the constant stress of coping and letting people down. In December 2012, I actually cried with pain in front of the kids whilst waiting for someone to come and take over for me. At that point, I realised I couldn’t continue like this, so I went straight to the Deputy Head and offered my resignation. He would not accept this, and gently persuaded me that I should go home and rest, see the GP in the morning and stay at home until things were better. I followed his advice and didn’t return for a year.

“The Deputy Head phoned me every month to find out how I was and how things were progressing. Occupational Health called regularly too, but at no time was I treated as a malingerer – they were genuinely mindful of my illness and wanted to help anyway they could. They got a long-term substitute teacher and I was able to communicate with her so that she could lead the kids through their A Levels and GCSEs.

“I would like to pay tribute to the fantastic students I had who were all so supportive and understanding. They worked hard to compensate for my absence and never once complained.

Return to work

“Eventually, in November 2013, I was able to attempt a return to work and they planned a very long re-introduction. I was not given back my Form Group so that I could use the extra time to rest. They tried to help find somewhere that I could lie down when I had an attack, so I was able to bring in a recliner chair to my office, and I was able to retreat there when necessary.

“Unfortunately, the return to work did not go well, and by March 2014, it became clear that it wasn’t going to get any better. I started the process of early retirement due to ill health and as advised, involved my union – the NUT, to arrange this. The Head Teacher spoke about how much he had appreciated my honesty and integrity, which I think helped me to be able to leave in July 2014 with an enhanced pension from The Teachers’ Pension.

“In all my thirty plus years of employment, including many years in hospitals, I have never before experienced such an open and honest approach to my disability. They were understandably ill informed to begin with, but they found out what they needed to do (mostly with the aid of The Migraine Trust’s information pack for employers) and most importantly, they never gave me any reason to feel that they didn’t trust me or that they wanted to get rid of me. I think it helped that I was a well respected member of the staff and that I worked hard, but they were amazing.

“I will always be grateful to them for their kind and generous treatment of me.”