How to Announce a Death of an Employee's Family Member

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Exercising tact when making funeral announcements is a necessary evil. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, step on any toes, or give too much information. And it’s these sensitivities that can cause you to freeze when making such an announcement. However, if you’re an employer, sometimes it’s necessary.

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You need to announce the death of an employee’s family member. Usually, the best way is to issue an email or a letter. For most organizations, an email makes more sense. Everyone communicates on a digital device these days, and organization-wide emails are hard to miss. 

In some cases, it can be more personal to do it verbally. This gives you a chance to change your delivery for each person. But sometimes without a record, some of those announcements can turn into gossip. That may lead to confusion and potential hurt for the employee affected. A formal announcement is best done through email.

How can you go about it, though?

Step 1: Ask Your Employee’s Permission 

There are a few reasons for you to make a company-wide announcement. If your employee is taking bereavement leave, coworkers will wonder where they went.

With an announcement, you can field questions on behalf of the employee to offer some space. In some cases, the employee may have a close group of coworkers. An announcement will offer them an opportunity to rally around their fellow coworker to provide support.

With any announcement, make sure to ask for permission. Your employees may not be comfortable divulging news with the whole company. They may want to tell a few close coworkers in person.

Be sure to confirm before you send an email and explain your intent for sharing this information. You can also use this conversation as an opportunity to confirm details about the service or ceremony to share with the company if the employee wants others to come.

Share your wishes, just in case.

Send your end-of-life preferences—including your funeral, legal, medical, and legacy choices—with your loved ones. Create a free Cake profile to get started.

» MORE: How do you host a virtual funeral? Start here

 

Step 2: Use Tact

With sensitive and life-changing news, it can be hard to communicate without divulging too many details or inappropriate information.

Ask your employee about what is proper to share and perhaps offer a draft for them to review ahead of sending it to staff. Most of the time, you can use stock sentences to make the announcement clear. An example would be: “Jane Doe’s father passed away last night.” You don’t need to offer details, and employees may not ask any further questions.

By developing a quick draft for the employee to review, it will clear up any assumptions that you may have and also make sure that nothing is missing. Be sure to confirm their wishes and plans before you send the email. 

Step 3: Be Punctual

As soon as you learn the news and get permission, start drafting an email. Moving quickly shows compassion for your employees and their connections to their coworker.

It'll also explain their sudden absence to coworkers. If your company is working on huge, time-sensitive projects, this is crucial. Another reason is that funerals are very sudden. If employees are taking time off to attend, there’s little time to plan. Giving the announcement as soon as possible is courteous and is in your company’s best interests. 

Step 4: Provide Actionable Steps

While it may be easy to end with a sentence such as, “Our thoughts and prayers are with John,” it may not offer enough direction for coworkers to show sympathy.

With the announcement, make it easy for folks to see any actionable steps they can take to offer their condolences. There are two options available. If the family wants donations made to a certain organization, provide details.

If your employee left no instructions about donations, tell them about the funeral. Does the family welcome coworkers attending? If so, provide details. They’ll need a date, time, and place. 

Step 5: Assign a Point-of-Contact

Placing the bereaved employee as a point-of-contact may be inappropriate. Of course, they have firsthand information on all the funeral details. But they’re dealing with many other issues at the moment.

They may be coordinating childcare, funeral arrangements, their absence from work, and travel plans. With all this on their plate, fielding questions from coworkers is too much. They might be leaving work right after the announcement. In that case, it could be hard for other employees to get in contact. 

Someone who is in charge of human resources or office management would be a great choice. Give them all the information you have on hand. You can also include their name and contact information at the end of the email. This will give people a clear reference point if they’re confused about any details. 

Company Announcement Sample Email or Letter

If you’re still struggling to compose the perfect email, we’ve provided some templates for you. Customize them for your specific situation. 

Sample subject line ideas

  • Bereavement Announcement
  • Sending thoughts and prayers to John Doe
  • Keeping Jane Doe in our thoughts
  • Bereavement Announcement for John Doe
  • Announcement on Jane Doe’s absence

Sample letter for an employee who lost a spouse or partner

If your employees are close to each other, or if you host a lot of company events, everyone might have met your employee’s spouse. This is a very personal loss that will affect everyone at your company. 

“I’ve learned that John Smith’s wife, Mary, passed away last night. She was involved in a tragic car accident on the freeway. Our hearts go out to John and his family at this time. Please keep him in your thoughts as he goes through this tragic time. 

After speaking with John, he confirmed that he would like to open the funeral. Any coworkers who would like to attend are welcome. The funeral will take place at St. Sebastian’s Church on the corner of Park and Oak streets. It will be at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Employees who would like to support John during this difficult time will be excused from work to attend the funeral.”

Sample letter for an employee who lost a child

Losing a child is one of the most painful things someone will experience. Exercising utmost tact and compassion is important. 

"I’d like to announce that Jane Doe’s daughter, Kristen, passed away yesterday. She fought leukemia for nine months. After two rounds of chemotherapy, she suffered a relapse. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jane and her family during this tragic time. 

After speaking with the Doe family, they would like to request donations in the place of gifts. Please direct them to St. Jude’s hospital in the form of donations. Their work was instrumental in helping Kristen live longer.  The Doe family is grateful for your support. The funeral will take place at 123 Street at noon. If you’d like to support the Doe family and attend the funeral, you will be excused from work."

Sample letter for an employee who lost a mother or father

The death of a mother or father for an employee can be very difficult and require some time for your employee to handle their grief and any additional planning. Consider providing an opportunity for coworkers to support your bereaved employee. 

"I recently learned that John Doe recently lost his mother. She passed away on Wednesday at Tacoma General Hospital. She suffered a fall at home and broke her hip. His mother never recovered, but she passed away in peace. She was surrounded by family and friends who loved her very much. Our hearts go out to John Doe and his family during this difficult season. 

The Doe family is conducting a small, private funeral. If you’d like to send donations to the hospital, or sympathy cards, please direct them to the funeral home. Your thoughts and prayers for the Doe family are appreciated. John will be absent from work from the 17th through the 26th. Any questions about his current projects should be directed to Jane Smith."

Crafting an Email

It’s tempting to believe that there’s a way to write the perfect email. You know how important it is to get right. But there’s no way to write something perfect. We’re all human, and no matter how closely you follow the template, you might make a mistake.

The important thing is to approach the situation with empathy and tact. Armed with those two things, you can write an email that's both professional and polite.


Sources

  1. “Tips for Supervisors and Managers: What to Do When A Coworker Dies.” Colorado State Employee Assistance Program, n.d., www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/atoms/files/Death%20of%20Employee.pdf
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