The #MeToo movement is inescapable. The evening news details story after story of awful behavior. The accused reads like a Who’s Who of American popular culture, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby (now convicted!), Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Louis CK. The list grows and grows.
You likely think, “I do not have to worry about sexual harassment…” because of several of these reasons. Reality is completely the opposite. You can and should be worried about sexual harassment. Every employer should be worried. The old way of doing things is changing.
Even the term “sexual harassment” is new (coined in the 1970s). Prior to the 1970s, having a creepy, leering, predatory boss was just a fact of life for many working women. A woman’s only option was to change jobs, if that was possible. The women were powerless. Now the pendulum has swung.
In this article, we will explain the five most common myths about sexual harassment in the funeral profession. To be honest, the top five list is based on a completely unscientific determination. (Marty made up the rankings of the top five, but we think they are representative of the myths circulating out there).
We will present these myths in David Letterman’s countdown format, with only the top five instead of ten.
[NOTE: We use David Letterman’s countdown not to dismiss or trivialize the issue. The countdown is just a tool for organizing the essay. Interestingly David Letterman had his own severe problems with sexual harassment on the job.]
And now, the top Five Myths of Sexual Harassment… (Drum roll please).
#5 — I do not have to worry about sexual harassment because I am a funeral home!
Not true. Sexual harassment can occur anywhere, anytime. No profession, no industry is immune from bad actions. If you have two or more workers, you could have incidents of sexual harassment. Do not ignore this issue thinking your business is immune! No one thought priests, congressmen, football coaches, or gymnastics trainers could be sexual predators, until they were exposed.
Sexual harassment is shockingly common. The survey results are consistent and disheartening. In America, one in three women report being harassed at work. One in three. This problem is not isolated to a few industries (like Hollywood). Harassment is everywhere.
#4 — I do not have to worry about sexual harassment because all my employees are male!
Not true. Same sex harassment can occur in a single sex environment, even if all employees are heterosexual. In the landmark case of Oncale v Sundowner Offshore [523 US 75 (1998)] a unanimous Supreme Court said sexual harassment can occur between two heterosexual men. In Oncale, the facts were rather gruesome. An offshore drilling worker was repeatedly harassed by co-workers, sodomized with bar of soap, and threatened with rape, and the employer did nothing. The employer is responsible for the workplace, and the gender of the participants does not change anything.
If you are harassed (at least partially) because of your gender, that is sexual harassment. Men can be the victims or the perpetrators. Women can be the victims or the perpetrators. While “men harassing women” is the most common type, it is not the only type! Don’t assume it could not happen at your workplace!
#3 — I do not have to worry about sexual harassment because my only employees are family!
Not true. While the funeral profession is a family business (more than most careers), being family centered does not eliminate the problems. Even if we assume that family members would not harass other family members, the employer is still responsible for the workplace. Employees could be harassed by customers and/or suppliers.
Further, family-as-employees will give a false sense of security. Familiarity (such as family) can lead to more inappropriate behavior, more relaxed standards. In other words, some things you might not say/do in front of strangers you might say/do around family or intimate friends (sexist jokes, derogatory comments on social media, inappropriate touching, etc.). Sexual harassment should always be a concern, even among family.
#2 — I do not have to worry about sexual harassment because I am not sexually interested in my employees!
Not true, for two reasons. First, the employer (boss) is not the only potential harasser. Co-workers, customers, suppliers, all can commit sexual harassment and the employer is responsible (to some degree) for everything that happens in the workplace. You (as the boss) should not only refrain from bad behavior, you need to do your part to prevent others from bad behavior at work.
Second, attraction between harasser and employee is not an element of harassment. You do not need to be “interested” in the other person to commit harassment. The opposite is also true. The lack of attraction between the harasser and the employee is not a defense. Harassment is about dominating and embarrassing an employee because of his/her gender. Harassment is not a form of flirting. Harassment is not based on attraction.
And the top myth about sexual harassment…
#1 — I do not have to worry about sexual harassment because I never harassed anyone!
Not true. Absolutely not true. As mentioned before peer-to-peer, customer to employee, supplier to employee, all kinds of harassment can occur in the workplace without the direct involvement of the supervisor (boss). The boss is responsible for preventing harassment and monitoring the workplace to avoid a hostile work environment. You are responsible, and avoiding this issue does not help (Remember Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes? “I see nothing…”). You are responsible and from the law’s point of view, you should have known what was occurring in the workplace. (Lawyers call this “constructive knowledge”).
More troubling, you might have committed sexual harassment and not even know it. Sexual harassment is not defined by the harasser’s intentions. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings” is not a defense. Sexual harassment is defined from the victim’s point of view. If she/he felt harassed by your actions, you face the consequences even if you did not intend any ill result.
Further, sexual harassment is not defined by the workplace majority. If you tell offensive jokes and only one employee complains, that is still harassment. The fact that other employees did not complain is not a defense. They might have wanted to complain but felt intimidated. If the #MeToo teaches us anything, it shows us that many women have been harmed by harassment (one in three) but have remained silent, until now.
The sad truth is everyone should worry about sexual harassment in the workplace. The problem has been ignored for far, far too long.
In future essays, we will discuss more of the laws and procedures surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace; how to protect your firm before and after an allegation; and how to change the culture at your firm. Sexual harassment is a very real problem in every industry. You need to plan for this difficulty.
You know the old saying, “An ounce of prevention…” FBA
Professor Marty Ludlum teaches business law at the University of Central Oklahoma and is a licensed attorney. He has made numerous presentations on the funeral industry at state and national conventions and had articles in national and state funeral magazines. Professor Ludlum has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in economics, a Master’s degree in communication and a Juris Doctor, all from the University of Oklahoma. Professor Ludlum is the Education Director for Osiris Funeral Home Software.
Kara Gray Ludlum is a CPA and licensed Funeral Director in Oklahoma. She operates Funeral Director’s Resource, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in providing Osiris computer software and funeral home accounting. She has made many presentations to state and national conventions. Kara has Bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Oklahoma and a Master’s degree in Business from Cameron University. Kara has taught accounting at Cameron University, and has owned and operated her family’s funeral homes for over 15 years.