Working parents advocate- Five Questions for Candace Alnaji, Esq.
Buffalo Law Journal
Jane Schmitt, Copy Editor Buffalo Business First
Sep 20, 2016
What do you bring to the table as co-chair of the Working Parents Committee of the local chapter of the state Women’s Bar Association?
I think my most important contribution … has been my passion for the type of work we do. We have such a dedicated, talented membership, and being able to help facilitate ideas and develop goals for the committee has been so rewarding. My son is 18 months old, and I have been practicing as an attorney for almost three years, so I am certainly not the most experienced parent or even the most experienced attorney on the committee. I practice plaintiff-side employment discrimination law, and so for my entire career, I’ve been an advocate for employees. Many of my clients have been working parents who faced discrimination because of pregnancy, lactation rights, parental leave and so forth. So when I became a parent myself and learned about the Working Parents Committee, it seemed like a natural fit to become involved. I absolutely think my legal practice helps inform the way I approach the committee since I have such an awareness of the issues working parents face across the board.
As a workplace civil rights attorney, do you have a sense of how families feel the impact of divorce and custody proceedings and other elements of family law?
My practice does not involve substantive family law issues, but there is certainly an intersection between family, divorce and custody issues and employment discrimination that we see. For example, domestic violence survivors are protected in relation to employment under the New York Human Rights Law. Our office has handled several cases where a domestic violence victim has faced discrimination at work because of that status or because the domestic abuser is harassing the victim at work. These types of cases are so personal, and you really get a sense of the trauma the victim has suffered. We also have a sense of the difficulties custody proceedings have on breastfeeding mothers who, because of a joint-custody order or other reason, may have to spend time away from their child, which can affect the ability of the mother to continue breastfeeding. Because our office advocates for the workplace lactation rights of nursing mothers, we sometimes get queries about the rights of nursing mothers in the midst of custody battles.
Why is it so important to advocate for the rights of working parents these days?
We live in a time where there are more rights protecting working parents than ever before, and it is so important to make (them) and their employers aware of those rights. Despite there being protections in place, there is still an attitude that persists in some workplaces that goes along the lines of “I had it this way, so you should, too.” “I had to pump in a bathroom, so you should, too.” “I got by with six weeks of leave, so you should, too.” These attitudes run contrary not only to the law in many cases but fly in the face of the work so many workers and advocates have done to advance employee rights. Certainly, these attitudes are not shared by every employer or supervisor, but they exist, even in our legal community. Educating workers and employers and eradicating outdated, harmful notions and stereotypes about what it means to be a working parent can only create healthier workplaces.
As a busy legal professional and a mother yourself, do you identify with challenges they face?
Absolutely! I work from home two days a week, and though I would not trade the time with my son for anything, it is a constant balancing act. I count my blessings because I work for a progressive, understanding employer who values me as an employee and helped ease my transition from attorney to attorney and mom. However, even under the most optimal circumstances, being a working parent still has its challenges. I give so much credit to parents who are out there without the same resources and support. I definitely struggle with the guilt many working parents feel. Even when I have to focus on a task while working at home, I feel guilty that my son has to share my attention with my phone or laptop. I still have to contend with unexpected sick days, doctor’s visits and getting by on little sleep. I understand the complex thoughts, emotions and experiences working parents face, so with every stumble or new lesson learned, I believe I become a better mom, a better attorney and a better advocate.
What’s the best part of coming home to your toddler after a long day at work?
The best part is definitely seeing how happy he is to see me. As a working parent, there is always the concern about the relationship you have with your child and whether you are bonding enough or spending enough time together. My son recently started part-time day care on the days I am at the office, so now I’m so excited to see what he was up to that day and learn about the relationships he’s forming with friends and caregivers. If I’ve had a stressful day, there is nothing better than arriving and seeing his happy face. Those are the moments I know it’s all worth it.