The case is more bleak for independent retailers, many of whom are either ill prepared for or not even aware of the full implications of the new family-friendly legislation, which applies to all companies regardless of their size. It is the nature of their business that makes family friendly policies so hard to implement ­ and complying with the new laws could be crippling as they don't have the human resources infrastructure to deal with it. Parents at Work chief executive Sue Monk says: "Small employers are generally more flexible than larger ones in offering more flexible hours as they are a smaller team, with personal links and generally fewer tensions." But this is only the theory. In practice, independent shop owners have to be realistic ­ which often means being ruthless. A spokeswoman at think-tank The Institute for Employment Rights says: "Small companies rest on paternalism ­ people can be caring but they can take the piss sometimes. But it's a harder life for small retailers and they have to put themselves first." Employment law practitioners expect life to get even harder. Mike Huss, senior employment law adviser at Manchester law firm Peninsula ­ which acts for small to medium businesses as their human resources and health and safety department, and advises them on obeying the law ­ warns: "While the Act gives rights to the employee, this employment law red tape is a backbreaking burden for small employers. The collapse of small businesses went up by a third in the first quarter of last year. The government is supposed to be business friendly, but this is killing the goose that lays the golden egg." Trevor Dixon, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, says: "In general we're sympathetic to legislation that protects workers' rights. We acknowledge and support the general move and we wouldn't want our members to abuse the privilege of employing staff. "But at the same time and in the same breath we want the government to recognise our concerns about the additional burden of administration and managing these new regulations. Our margins are more fragile than larger stores and this is one more cost burden that small stores will have to bear. And in some cases it may be the straw that breaks the camel's back." {{COVER FEATURE }}