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Upholding Dignity in Death Care: Confronting & Combating Sexual Harassment in the Funeral Profession

Compassion and professionalism are paramount in the funeral profession. The families you serve expect to be respected and supported during some of the most challenging times of their lives. Most of you do a fantastic job there, but the prevalence of workplace harassment still poses a significant threat to funeral professionals, especially those who identify as women.


An estimated 65% of new funeral directors are women. However, the profession is still dominated by men, who make up 64.7% of all funeral directors licensed in the United States.


Women are doing well financially in the funeral profession. Unlike employers in other professions, funeral homes tend to pay women equally to men. But equal pay doesn't justify:


  • Inappropriate comments

  • Sexual advances

  • Gender-based discrimination

  • Otherwise hostile workplace environments


Funeral homes, like any workplace, can become breeding grounds for harassment if left unchecked. It can be devastating for employees and detrimental to the reputation of the profession, which already has its challenges.



Confronting Harassment in Your Workplace


As funeral directors and industry leaders, you have legal and moral obligations to confront and eradicate workplace harassment in all its forms. This begins with acknowledging the prevalence of harassment and its disproportionate impact on women in the funeral profession. Studies have shown that nearly 60% of women in funeral service report experiencing harassment or discrimination at some point in their careers, underscoring the urgent need for action. Here are some of the high-profile cases we've seen in the profession:


2016-The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ordered a Florida funeral home to pay $85,000.00 to settle a complaint alleging the owner and manager subjected female employees to constant egregious sexual harassment in the form of sexual innuendo, unwanted touching, and sexual overtures.


2020-Another Florida funeral home was sued by a funeral director who alleged the owner subjected her to countless acts of sexual harassment and retaliated against her when she rejected his advances.


2020-The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) held that a Michigan funeral home had engaged in sex discrimination when it terminated the employment of a transgender funeral director.

Previously, the EEOC had directed the funeral home to pay $253,705.00 in back pay and compensatory damages. The commission also directed a clothing reimbursement to female employees who did not receive the stipend male employees did. Further, the funeral home was required to provide anti-discrimination training, revise its anti-discrimination policy, and implement new procedures for handling discrimination complaints.


2021-A Texas funeral home was sued by the EEOC for subjecting female employees to sexual harassment and retaliation.


2021-An Iowa funeral director was sued by a mortuary school student who claimed he sexually assaulted her while transporting decedents and working in embalming rooms.


2022-The EEOC ordered a Texas funeral home to pay $135,000.00 and take other remedial action to settle a complaint alleging the owner made numerous crude sexual comments, sexually propositioned female employees, touched them without consent, and offered them money for sexual favors. When they complained to the funeral home's other managers, nothing was done, forcing three of them to resign. Another was subjected to retaliation.


Implementing Comprehensive Policies and Training


To combat workplace harassment effectively, funeral homes must implement comprehensive sexual harassment prevention policies and provide regular training to employees. For funeral homes in New York, we recommend using the State's model policy. This policy:


  1. Clearly defines prohibited behavior

  2. Outlines reporting procedures

  3. Emphasizes the consequences for perpetrators.


Training must not end with the annual mandatory online training. I recommend the KARR Method.


  • Knowledge delivery, such as the online training

  • Application in a workshop setting that allows employees to practice conversations and make their errors in a safe, learning environment

  • Reinforcement of the conduct you want to see

  • Resolution of the inevitable conflicts that will arise when humans come together


You must empower fellow employees to recognize and address harssment when it occurs.


Creating a Culture of Respect and Support


Beyond policies and training, funeral directors must lead by example. You must address harassment complaints swiftly and creating an environment where employees feel safe speaking up about their experiences. This includes:


  • Actively listening to concerns

  • Conducting fair, impartial, and thorough investigations (weve if that means hiring an outside investigator)

  • Taking prompt and appropriate action to address harassment and support affected employees


As the demographics of the funeral profession continue to shift, it's imperative that we empower all qualified individuals and support their advancement. This includes providing mentorship opportunities, advocating for equal pay and advancement, and actively promoting diversity and inclusion at all levels of your organization and the profession. We can all contribute to a brighter future for all funeral professionals. Let us stand united in our commitment to creating workplaces where harassment has no place and every individual is valued, respected, and able to thrive.


Written by Nance L. Schick, Esq.


 

From Continuing Vision: If you are currently going through any type of harassment or discrimination, please click here to find out how to report it or to find an EEOC Field Office near you.



If you feel unsafe or unsure of the next steps, please feel free to reach out to us at info@continuingvision.com with the subject line, "ANGEL." Any messages received will remain confidential. While we cannot give legal advice, we can help connect you to resources that can. You are not alone.




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