This article originally appeared in the 2018 winter issue of OGR’s Independent magazine. This is part 1 of a two-part series by Stephanie Ramsey, The Foresight Companies, LLC.
Almost daily there are new reports of well-known public figures accused of sexual harassment. From Hollywood superstars to political figures, the growing list of accusers and abusers astounds the public. There has not been this much public interest in sexual harassment since 1991 when Anita Hill accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
Historically, sexual assault has been one of the lowest reported crimes in the United States. It is believed that sexual harassment is also significantly under-reported. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) estimates 75% of workplace harassment incidents go unreported.
However, it seems that the tides are changing. More individuals are coming forward with accusations in virtually every industry. Is your funeral business at risk of an EEOC investigation for sexual harassment/sex-based harassment? When I ask funeral business owners and managers this question, most immediately indicate that they do not have a problem with sexual harassment in their businesses. When I inquire about their confidence on this issue they proclaim, “our business has a professional atmosphere, and we have great employees”.
Even “great” employees are accused of harassment.
Unfortunately, a professional work environment does not mean that everything is perfect. Even “great” employees are accused of harassment. More importantly, they are found guilty of such harassment. If your employees have not been given training to specifically understand what constitutes sexual harassment, your business might be at risk of facing a complaint. This is especially true given the current public climate that supports those who come forward with stories of harassment.
Funeral business owners need to recognize some of the vital statistics and develop a plan to prevent sexual harassment. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll on why the “Me Too” campaign went viral revealed startling results illustrating that sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, is a full-blown epidemic. Specifically, this poll found that more than half of all American women have experienced “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances” at some point in their lives.
In fact, this poll indicates that 30 percent of women have endured sexual harassment from their male colleagues. Even more disturbing, the poll found that 33 million U.S. women have been sexually harassed in work-related incidents.
Women are not the only victims! Approximately 17 percent of the sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC in recent years are filed by males. This is almost double the number of previous complaints filed between 1990 and 2009. Another recent Washington Post poll showed that 10 percent of men have experienced workplace sexual harassment. Clearly, there is a significant problem of workplace sexual harassment in the United States.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This federal law specifically applies to employers with more than 15 employees as well as local, state and federal government employers. However, it is important to note that having less than 15 employees does not mean that as an employer you might not face this type of complaint. Many states, counties, and cities have a lower threshold or no threshold for the minimum number of employees before a complaint can be filed. The best protection for funeral business owners is to understand themselves what constitutes sexual/sex-based harassment to prevent such incidents from occurring within their businesses.
Let’s start with what constitutes sexual/sex-based harassment according to the EEOC:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim, as well as the harasser, may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
Do you find any of this surprising? Next week, we’ll look at some examples of sexual/sex-based harassment and how funeral home owners and managers can put basic preventative measures in place to ensure the safety of their staff and limit their liability.
Stephanie Ramsey is the HR Specialist at The Foresight Companies, an OGR Supply Partner. She has a unique perspective on the challenges funeral and cemetery business owners and managers face when dealing with employee issues. She has written many employee handbooks and other job-specific documents for clients nationwide. Stephanie can be reached at Stephanie@f4sight.com
- Me Too Hashtag by Fortune
- Disturbing Stats about Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
- Sexual Harassment Stats by Atlantic Training
- 23 Stats on Harassment in the Workplace
- Discrimination Claims and State Laws by Workplace Fairness.org