Why FMLA Doesn’t Cut It for Growing Startups

A quarter-century ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, designed to provide workers up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave. Over the years, the groundbreaking policy which covers new parents, people caring for a sick family member and people fighting a severe illness has thrown America’s ever-growing startup community in a tizzy.

The FMLA’s federal protections system ignore the burdens impacting early stage or growth-stage startups. Contrary to what advocates might think, the FMLA also renders employers to tilt in favor of employees with fewer responsibilities towards their family.

“For startups, the possibility of someone not being around to contribute for three months at a stretch could be a sticking point,” said an associate VP at a London-based digital payment app.

Startups are in favor of the noble goal of protecting workers and their families who need to leave the workplace temporarily, but also apprehensive as it can impact on costs as they brave lower productivity levels in action-based roles. For a startup low on funds, affording more than three months’ salary for no productive work is obtuse.

Advocates of the FMLA believe that employers don’t have an incentive to create fair workplace standards. Thus, the government should step in to perpetuate the idea that the FMLA doesn’t come with real economic ramifications.

Here’s something to ponder on: Employers invest time and resources hiring and training employees. At the end of the day, their bottom line depends on employee productivity. No matter if a man leaves to care for an aging parent or a woman leaves to have a baby, the workload isn’t going to disappear itself. The company is going to have to shift internal resources or pour in more funds to accommodate the absence of a trained employee. No leave comes without a cost to the employers.

FMLA Growing Startups

Startups are in favor of the noble goal of protecting workers and their families who need to leave the workplace temporarily, but also apprehensive as it can impact on costs as they brave lower productivity levels in action-based roles.

Startups that view employees as an asset will want to accommodate their leaves to a certain degree. Failing to accommodate an employee’s professional and personal needs is a failed HR policy that employers recognize does not make good business sense.

Employers must figure out ways to respond to these ongoing employee demands. To help employees take leave when they need it most, employees must make structural changes within the organizations.

FMLA Compliance for Growing Startups: What Should Come Next?

It has been found that startups that typically integrate cross-training are able to combat workplace expectations and work it to their advantage. Cross-training employees is seen as a key vehicle for retaining talent and maximizing their effectiveness during unpredictable talent gaps. Used in conjunction with HRM best practices, the following tips will result in a faster learning curve for a more productive and engaged workforce in the absence of a trained staff member.

Leveraging Internal Talent

It is most likely that an existing employee will hit the ground running as against a new recruit. This would also contribute to better talent mobility, which is a great way to retain staff especially for startups and mid-size organizations which don’t have enough resources to train new employees.

In a market scenario where competition is intense, this could help organizations gain a competitive advantage as the existing talent pool is able to meet future demands.

Train Employees for Management & Additional Responsibilities

When you cross-train employees within a department, you provide them with the technical know-how to run day-to-day operations, allowing you to focus on ‘The Big Picture’ like communication, vision, and conflict resolution.

Staff More Strategically

Strategic planning of employee onboarding and development ensures consistency. When organizations invest in a strategic onboarding program, it allows them to avoid dips in productivity due to ‘skill gaps’ that open up when experienced employees go on a leave.

Use Temporary Staff More Effectively

Temporary staff can be an excellent choice when you want to keep your regular employees fully productive, but not overworked and at the same time fill short-term needs.

Strategic recruitment and onboarding can help employers change expectations of how and where people work. Although the FMLA is one part of fixing the workplace, employers must remain agile to its challenges to continue to grow. Employers concerned about a range of problems surrounding productivity recognize that their organization can benefit from taking a broader approach to cross-training because of its effects on workplace productivity and employee sustainability.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) act of 1993 entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Below you can read general information about which employers are covered by the FMLA and when employees are eligible and entitled to take FMLA leave.


  • Private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer;
  • Public agency, including a local, state, or Federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs; or
  • Public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.


Only eligible employees are entitled to take FMLA leave. An eligible employee is one who:

  • Works for a covered employer;
  • Has worked for the employer for at least 12 months;
  • Has at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave*; and
  • Works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

* Special hours of service eligibility requirements apply to airline flight crew employees.

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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