What to Do When an Employee Dies: 11 Items

Updated

The death of an employee is always distressing no matter the size of the company. Almost every employee can be affected in some capacity following the death of a co-worker.

You can expect a low amount of workflow and productivity may be down for a few days or weeks following the death. Your remaining employees may be feeling the effects of grief in some form or other. 

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It is not always easy to recognize grief and its related symptoms. Your staff may be feeling uneasy, more stressed out than usual, and even some anxiety. That said, they may not be aware of the cause, which is suffering the death of their co-worker.

Providing workplace support may be challenging after an employee's death, especially when your company has not adequately prepared for this type of tragedy.

What to Do Immediately After an Employee Dies

Whenever an employee dies at work, you'll need to know how to handle the situation best and notify the family. You'll also need to know how to announce an employee's death to others at work in a way that respects the family's wishes and honors the employee's legacy.

Suppose the employee's death occurs outside of the workplace. In that case, your tasks are limited to securing the employee's personal belongings and other administrative tasks related to the employee's job or position within the company.

1. Contact the family 

When an employee's death occurs in the workplace, you should first contact the family to see how much information they’d like for you to share with others. In some cases, the family may not feel comfortable sharing the news or cause of death with employees before the rest of the family has received the death notification.

You'll next want to notify the deceased employee's co-workers who work closely with them on a day-to-day basis before making a general announcement. Be careful to share only as much information as allowed by the family and your advisors and not overshare details that the family wishes to remain private.

2. Secure company property

An employee's death should be treated much the same way as any termination of employment. You'll want to remove access to secured areas within and access in and out of the building.

If the employee worked remotely, you'll want to ensure any computer or telecommunications equipment that may contain sensitive information is returned immediately or disabled remotely. You can designate another employee to secure any company property to avoid adding any additional stress to the family.

3. Evaluate your workforce

An employee's death can create workflow issues, backlogs, or setbacks in meeting significant deadlines. You'll want to quickly assess the employee's current job responsibilities, deadlines, and projects they were working on so that you can reassign their workload until human resources can find a replacement.

Be mindful not to advertise for the open position so soon after the employee's death to avoid hurting feelings within the company that may lower employee morale. Consider the use of temporary employment agencies or reassignment of workloads temporarily.

4. Payroll and benefits

Two significant issues following the death of an employee are how to handle payroll and benefits. In most cases, employees are due a final paycheck at the time of termination.

You should always consult with human resources before making any final decisions on distributing any remaining salary, compensation, or benefits due and owing to the deceased’s estate. 

Every state has different rules on how to process final paychecks when an employee has died. You may also want to consult with an attorney to see how your state handles the release of final wages and who to release any death benefits or any other available insurance payouts. 

5. Send condolences

Remember to send condolences to the employee's family soon after their death, whether the death occurred at the workplace or elsewhere. Suppose the employee's death was the fault of the company's negligence. In that case, you may want to check with your legal counsel before making any statements of admission or responsibility in issuing your condolences or an apology to the family.

At the very least, consider sending a sympathy bouquet with a simple statement expressing condolences. You'll want to direct any questions to your human resources department or legal counsel as further details become available surrounding the death.

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How to Comfort or Help Your Employees After Another Employee's Death

Before the pandemic, most people would spend most of their working hours in an office or other work setting. Often, employees would spend more time with their coworkers than with their families at home.

As a result, when an employee dies, it can significantly affect the people they worked alongside. Sometimes an employee's death hits as hard as when another beloved member of the family dies. 

The role of a manager, supervisor, or owner of a company becomes vital in managing employees who are grieving and mourning a coworker's loss. There are many considerations when deciding how to handle an employee's death at work.

Consider the circumstances surrounding the death, the employee's relationship within the organization, and the relationship with their coworkers. The following are some methods dealing with workplace death.

6. Carefully consider the death announcement

Once you speak with the deceased family and get approval for making a company-wide announcement, decide which employees will be notified of the deaths first.

When making a sensitive declaration such as an employee’s death announcement, you may want to alert human resources first and pass any potential wording by them. You can continue by sharing the news to those closest to the employee, followed by a general announcement to the rest of the workforce.

Decide what and how much information you'll want to share with others before making any announcements. Also, consider the potential and varied grief reactions from the employees.

You'll want to have grief counselors on standby to support your employees who may be more affected by the death than others. Expect that some of your employees will need to take some time off to process their loss. 

7. Offer grief support

It is crucial to help your workforce cope with the unexpected grief of a coworker. Offering grief counseling can aid them in navigating through their grief. Grief counseling helps employees sort out their feelings and emotions, making returning to work less stressful for them. Coworkers may not get much grief support after the sudden death of an employee.

While the family might receive outpouring love and support, a coworker is left having to deal with their grief with little to no help. Sometimes, coworker relationships are similar to extended family, and employees will grieve one another's death in much the same way. 

8. Reallocate resources

Take the time to get to know your employee's circumstances and personal workloads. When tragedy strikes, you'll know where to make the necessary adjustments to maintain high performance in difficult times.

Reallocating company resources to support employees in need will help them when faced with the unexpected. If you see that an employee is having a challenging time keeping up with their workload because of grief, offer to shift some of their work to other employees as needed. 

Tips for Being a Good Leader After the Death of an Employee

Tragic circumstances may lead to challenges you're unprepared for when an employee dies. Being a good leader requires you to take charge and be an example to your employees and managers in trauma and crisis times.

An employee and co-worker's death can have differing effects on a company and its employees depending on its size, work relationships, and company culture. 

The pain of loss is sometimes felt throughout the company, even when others didn't personally know the co-worker who died. Simultaneously, the employee's death can have a minimal effect on a company's workflow and productivity.

However, an employee's death almost always calls for effective leadership, organizational emotional support, and damage control. 

9. Maintain company morale

Dealing with the death of a co-worker is not always easy for other employees. Even in circumstances where the relationship to the person who died was not always the best or the closest, a co-worker's death can affect an employee's psychology, emotions, and overall mental health.

To maintain proper company morale, consider canceling ordinary and daily meetings and providing support for people to share their experiences and pain. Offering organizational comfort in the form of grief counseling and bereavement leave is necessary in times of crisis. 

10. Show compassion

Showing organizational compassion after an employee's death will lessen the immediate suffering of other employees and make them feel secure and appreciated in their employment.

Having and demonstrating understanding enables your employees to bounce back from future traumas more effectively by creating a sense of security, knowing that their leaders support them.

When employees are treated with compassion during difficult moments such as these, they may feel more loyal to the company and other employees in kind. Overall, this leads to the company feeling like a better place to work.

11. Create a safe environment

Allow people to bring their pain into the office, so they don't have to expend energy trying to ignore, suppress, or hide it. Allowing people to express their grief and sorrow is part of creating a safe environment for your employees.

During a crisis, supporting your employees will enable them to more quickly and effectively get back to work following a co-worker's death.

The psychology behind this is that when an employee feels that their company supports them at times of loss, they feel more secure. Your employees will worry less about future events as they unfold, knowing that the company handled the current event in a  caring and compassionate way.

When an Employee Dies

The death of an employee doesn’t always produce a life-changing event for co-workers and their employer. Most of the time, it may not even affect the company's bottom line or overall production levels. However, showing compassion and emotion when someone dies allows employees to connect, and it helps grow employee loyalty to the company.

Showing effective leadership encompasses everything from giving support to the employees and the deceased's family, shutting down non-essential business for the day, and allowing the employees to share their grief experiences.

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