Small firms, the paid maternity leave debate in Australia and the business case

Rowena Joy Barrett, Susan Elizabeth Mayson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The purpose of this paper is to examine the management of maternity leave in small firms and particularly to explore the perceived costs and benefits of paid maternity leave (PML). PML is a universal right in some countries (i.e. the UK), but not in Australia where most private sector female employees only have access to 12 months unpaid maternity leave. It also aims to explore how the business case for (or against) PML is constructed in small firms. The study was limited to smaller firms operating in the business services sector in the same regional area. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight employers and female employees in six of these firms. Analysis by theme was undertaken within and across interview transcripts. Not one of these small firm employers offered PML and the cost of doing so was not considered to outweigh the benefits already realised through the (legislated) unpaid maternity leave scheme. In these firms maternity leave was managed in an informal way with notions of flexibility - give and take - characterising what happens. The paper addresses the lack of research on access to family-related leave policies in small firms. Employer and employee views of the issue are drawn upon, the latter not often being heard. The paper contributes to understanding the construction of the business case for a specific issue in smaller firms and human resource management from a resource-based view more generally in smaller firms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276 - 291
Number of pages16
JournalEqual Opportunities International
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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