Between years of instruction, completing your apprenticeship, and sitting for a licensing exam, you've invested a great deal of time and money into becoming a licensed funeral director. Unfortunately, all it may take is one complaint, misstep, or lapse in judgment to put all that work into jeopardy. The job of a funeral director is one requiring a huge amount of public trust, not just in professional conduct but also in the proper handling of the remains of people's loved ones. Allegations that violate that public trust can result in disciplinary action that could cost you your license--and any funeral director who loses their license is likely to lose their livelihood, too.
If you're facing potential disciplinary action against your funeral director license, whether due to an error in judgment, miscommunication with a client, or outright accusations of fraud or abuse, you need to take steps to protect your career by hiring an experienced professional license defense attorney. Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience defending licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. To help you be prepared for what's ahead, the Lento Law Firm has compiled answers to some of the most common questions asked by funeral directors facing challenges to their professional licenses.
Who Do I Answer to if Someone Files a Complaint Against My Funeral Director's License?
If your funeral director's license comes into question, the state board that issued your license will handle the investigation and disciplinary process. In the State of New Jersey, you'll answer to the State Board of Mortuary Science; in Pennsylvania, it's the State Board of Funeral Directors; and in New York, it's the Bureau of Funeral Directing.
What Sorts of Offenses Could Cause Me To Lose My License as a Funeral Director?
Funeral directors may face disciplinary actions over a wide range of allegations. Among the most common are:
- Gross negligence and incompetence. This often involves mishandling of the deceased--for example, improper embalming, commingling ashes with those of another, unethical treatment of the body, losing cremated remains, burial at the wrong gravesite, etc.
- Misconduct. Examples may include preying on emotionally vulnerable customers by "upselling" services, mishandling customer funds, verbal/emotional abuse, etc.
- Fraudulent practices. Examples include overcharging customers, false advertising, insurance billing fraud, etc.
- Substance abuse/addiction. Drunkenness and/or drug use may be grounds for losing your license, especially if you're reported as being under the influence while on the job.
- Criminal convictions. Being convicted for certain crimes (especially crimes of moral turpitude) could cost you your license.
What Is the Disciplinary Process for Funeral Directors?
While there are specific protocols in each state for licensing boards to determine disciplinary action, most will follow a set of steps similar to the following:
- Complaint. Almost all disciplinary actions begin when someone files a formal complaint against you with your state's funeral director licensing board.
- Investigation. The board will launch an investigation into the complaint to determine if it is valid and whether there is any evidence supporting it. The board can ask you to reply in writing or provide documentation. They may also subpoena documents or interview witnesses.
- Consent decree. If there is significant evidence against you, you may be given the offer to sign a consent decree as an alternative to going into a formal hearing. The consent decree is effectively an admission of guilt and an agreement to be subject to the board's disciplinary action (often with a path to restoration in place).
- Hearings. Absent a consent decree, the board will hold a hearing to review the evidence and give you a chance to tell your side of the story. Hearings can be held directly before the board or before an Administrative Law Judge, and an attorney can represent you.
- Board action. A determination of guilt/innocence is made by the board, and a decision as to what disciplinary action should be taken against you.
At any point in the process, the board may decide to either throw out your complaint due to lack of evidence or agree to reduced penalties so that you are able to keep your funeral director license. A skilled license defense attorney can be extremely helpful in helping you achieve one of these outcomes.
Are There Other Forms of Discipline That Allow Me To Keep My License?
Yes. Although license revocation is the most serious disciplinary action, lesser penalties may also be applied as the board deems appropriate. These include:
- Temporary suspension
- Conditional agreements (e.g., attending mandatory treatment in exchange for your license being kept)
- Formal reprimand
You should be aware that even the smallest of these penalties can still have a negative impact on your career because any action taken against you is a matter of public record. This means anyone from customers to prospective employers can check your license to see if you've had any disciplinary actions taken against you, which could affect their decision to work with you. To reduce the chance of this kind of outcome, it is always best to consult a professional license attorney.
How Can an Attorney Help Me?
An attorney with experience in professional license defense can help to lower the chances of your funeral director license being revoked due to a complaint. An experienced attorney can:
- Act as your official representative in all correspondence and interactions with the state licensing board, up to and including formal hearings
- Help you understand the complaint against you and help you devise a defense strategy
- Gather evidence and witnesses to support your case
- Negotiate with the board throughout the process to get the best outcome possible for your case, whether it's having the complaint dismissed or agreeing to more lenient forms of discipline
- Facilitate having your license reinstated in certain cases if it is already suspended or revoked
If your funeral director's license is under fire, you owe it to yourself not to take unnecessary chances with your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are in danger of disciplinary action. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to see how we can help.