Have you heard the great news about the two new parent-focused federal laws? A few weeks ago, Congress passed both the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). Huzzah! But what exactly does this mean for us as working parents?
Here to give us the Cliff Notes version of these two new laws is none other than Daphne Delvaux, Esq., a.k.a. the MamAttorney. Daphne is known for her extremely clear and helpful explanations and advocacy. (Her Instagram feed is one of my favorites.) And I couldn’t be more excited that she agreed to share her wisdom with the Mindful Return community today in the interview below. Welcome, Daphne!
Mindful Return: Daphne, it’s so good to have you here! As the MamAttorney, you’re both a working mom and a lawyer. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your own personal working parent journey? Also, though you and I both have quite a bit in common (moms of 2 boys, attorneys, advocates for working parents), we have very different legal niches. When I put my lawyer hat on, I’m a Medicare regulatory reimbursement laws nerd, while you’re a trial attorney who fights for women’s workplace rights. What drew you to litigate and also to this particular area of law?
Daphne: I found my way to employment law after experiencing gender discrimination in the workforce. Many women move through their careers bumping into different forms of sexism. But it was only once I became a trained lawyer that I was able to connect the dots.
Being an attorney gave me the power and the voice I didn’t have when I was younger. It allowed me to be strategic and make an impact that was more widespread than sharing just my story. Now, in telling my client’s stories, I also use the law as a tool to restore their sense of worth and reward them monetarily.
I represent women in cases relating to equal pay, pregnancy discrimination, leave discrimination, accommodation disputes, and sexual harassment. I’m particularly focused on maternal discrimination, as I’m deep in the motherhood experience myself, as the mother of two little boys.
When I became pregnant, I was shocked to learn that most law firms don’t actually know the proper maternity leave rules. So I read the regulations and created an entire script for maximizing time off for healing and bonding. I started to share the script, and many other mothers were telling me that their employers were actually not following the law.
From there, I started to share this information publicly. My goal was to educate and empower everyone, so they can advocate for their own needs or their families’ needs without compromising their career goals. Because usually, by the time a client called me, the transgression of her rights had already happened and usually she was out of a job. I wanted to give everyone the toolkit I developed over a decade as an employment attorney. So I started to share more and more information online about what our rights are, and almost always, the response was, “Wow I had no idea.”
No one really teaches us our rights, so it’s actually up to us to educate ourselves and each other. Through mass social media education, we have been able to save countless jobs, especially during the pandemic. I also receive daily messages that women are using my content to get paid more or take more time off to heal or bond.
Mindful Return: This past December, Congress passed some pretty awesome legislation that supports both pregnant and breastfeeding employees. Can you give us the Cliff notes on what’s in these two new Federal laws? And what makes them better than their predecessors?
The first of the two new laws is the PUMP Act.
The PUMP Act extends pumping rights from 1 to 2 years. Many states already removed the limit, but federally, the rule was 1 year. The law also provides that pumping time has to be paid, as long as the employee can work. Previously, the time was off-the-clock. And at the same time, pumping employees had to keep up with all routine work demands. Specifically, pumping was not a reason to perform differently. This meant that pumping parents had to work harder in less time, as they lost out on pay every time they pumped. This also resulted in pumping parents quitting pumping or breastfeeding, even when they weren’t ready.
Most importantly, it expands eligibility to all employees. Previously, salaried employees were exempt. This meant MILLIONS of parents. Some states had already expanded pumping rights to all employees, but unfortunately this created a complicated network of hodgepodge laws without any consistency or clarity. The PUMP Act will harmonize all the confusing local rules and will result in better pumping experience for millions of pumping parents.
The second of the new laws is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA).
Under this Act, pregnant and postpartum employees will be eligible for reasonable accommodations that would help the employee perform the job. Examples of accommodations are: flexibility, telework, extra breaks, a leave of absence, extra time for finishing work, supportive tools and equipment. These rights will be accessible by virtue of being pregnant.
Previously, under federal law, pregnant or postpartum employees had to have a qualified legal disability to have access to these rights, meaning they had to show proof of symptoms well beyond general pregnancy symptoms. With the new rights, morning sickness, exhaustion, backpain or similar symptoms will be all that’s needed to be eligible for accommodations.
Many states already offered pregnancy accommodation rights. Just like with the PUMP Act, the PWFA will harmonize the confusing local rules and provide clarity, both for the employees and for employers. Accommodation rights are generally not absolute. They are granted only if the accommodation sought is not an undue burden on the business. A company’s legal duty to accommodate is very high, and there are legal consequences to employers abusing the “undue burden” defense. An employer may not retaliate against an employee requesting or using accommodations.
These new rights will allow parents to be safe and secure. The laws will also benefit employers, as the federal laws will harmonize confusing state rules and prevent resignations. They will also help babies come into the world to parents who do not feel stressed at work.
Mindful Return: How do these two laws define “mother”? Do they protect trans individuals who may be pregnant or pumping?
Trans individuals were already protected under general gender discrimination rights. Gender identity at work is a protected right, so it does not matter how the parent defines their identity. These rights protect the experiences of pregnancy and pumping. An employee does not need to identify as mother to be eligible. That was already the law.
Mindful Return: When do the new laws take effect?
The PUMP Act is already in effect.
The PWFA will go into effect June 27, 2023.
Mindful Return: What do you advise an employee to do who feels as though their employer perhaps isn’t complying with these new laws?
Alert them first, in writing. These new rights were passed and signed into law fairly quickly through the omnibus bill, so I’m fairly certain most employers don’t even know yet. If the employer continues to disregard the rules, call an attorney. Keep copies of all your communications about your rights.
Mindful Return: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Can I share three things? Why humble brag if you can regular brag 🙂
I won the first equal pay trial in the state of California. It was also my first trial, and I won an Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award.
I launched and opened the first and only law firm devoted to women’s rights at work.
In my business, I lead with kindness and compassion. Our caseload is sustainable. We take actual breaks and paid vacations. We work flex time. And we are with our kids a lot. I unsubscribe to the idea that being a litigator means I have to struggle, and ignore my health and family. I am on a different path I have not really seen modeled before, and I am proud to be a trailblazer.
Mindful Return: What law should Congress pass next to support working parents?
Federal paid leave with job protection, both for birth/bonding AND for when those kids get sick when they are older. Children do not stop needing their parents when they are no longer babies.
Mindful Return: Your Instagram posts and advice are AMAZING. Other than following you @themamattorney how else can we keep up with your inspiring work?
Considering joining my membership, where I teach you about your rights at work and how to assert them.
Mindful Return: Anything else you wish I had asked?
What parenting accomplishment are you most proud of? I make my kids watch TV in French or Spanish, so that I don’t feel guilty about screen time. Instead, it’s basically a free language tutor. You’re welcome kids! I highly recommend this, and the trick is to start when they’re little.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave