DISCLAIMER: This post provides a general overview of your legal rights and responsibilities as a funeral director, as well as a business owner and employer. It is not legal advice, and I am not your attorney. If you require information or advice applied to your unique situation, please make an appointment to discuss it with an experienced attorney of your choosing.
Your individual rights end where they conflict with others’ rights.
The intersection of individual rights is a consistent theme in American law. It has not been consistently applied throughout United States history. For centuries, the individual rights of women, Black slaves, immigrants, people with disabilities, and those who practice certain religions or identify as LGBTQIA+ were not considered. We are still working to correct that, which is a conversation for a series of other posts.
For the purposes of this post, we are looking at the rights you gain as a funeral director when you obtain your license, open a funeral home, and employ workers. More importantly, we want to explore the limitations on those rights at the points they intersect with others’ rights. For example:
- Access and privacy. Your funeral director’s license gives you rights to take actions others generally don’t and access to information that is otherwise limited.
- Selling and hiring. Your funeral home and small business license give you rights to do things such as sell services, hire employees, and locate your business in certain neighborhoods within the state.
- Employing and withholding. Your employer or tax identification number allows you to pay taxes under a number other than your personal social security number gives, and your EIN gives you the right to withhold certain portions of employee pay (which can also be seen as a responsibility, of course).
- Residing and doing business. You still have all the rights of a citizen and resident, but your decision to do business–in this profession–holds you to a higher standard of conduct.
Your responsibilities are determined by several intersecting laws, rules, and regulations.
In exchange for the privilege of doing business as a funeral director, you have several responsibilities to various people you will encounter:
- The general public
- Families of the decedents
- Bodies of the decedents
- People who work for you—including independent contractors
Responsibilities to Decedents’ Survivors
The decedents’ survivors are in the most vulnerable position, which is why there are many laws and ethical rules to protect them. Unfortunately, funeral directors have occasionally taken advantage of them in their times of greatest need. That resulted in laws governing:
- Estates and Trusts
- Wills and Probate
- Public Health
Survivors might easily pay for unnecessary expenses or last-minute changes to the funeral contract, which is why you must make those contracts clear. They might also be confused about who is the disposition agent or who has authority to make other decisions. Where there are no advance directives, the law will often decide.
Responsibilities to the General Public
Your responsibilities to the general public largely come from laws governing:
- Criminal activity
- General business
- Human rights
- Torts, or injuries to people or property
It should be no surprise that you cannot engage in crimes, unfair business practices, or unlawful discrimination. You must also take precautions to ensure the safety of the people and property on premises or in vehicles you own or control.
Responsibilities to Employees
Most people work for others, so when you elect to hire other people to help your business earn profits, you agree to keep them safe from several types of harm. Your responsibilities to employees are derived from employment and human rights laws, including equal employment, tort, and workers compensation laws.
Navigating the Intersections
It’s easy for funeral directors to get lost in all the paperwork and tasks required for a service. Remember why there is so much:
- Your business and professional licenses give you privileges not granted to every citizen or resident. Because you work with people in their weakest moments, you must continue to prove the state did not err in granting those licenses.
- When you benefit financially from these licenses and privileges, you must pay a little back in the form of taxes, mandatory insurance, and proper record-keeping. You have agreed to this by applying for the licenses.
- Your rights end where they might or do cause harm to others. Again, because you work with vulnerable people, the likelihood of harm is greater than in other businesses. That is why there are high standards of reasonableness for your conduct.