When an employee passes away, it is difficult to know what to do and how to respond – especially as an employer. It is important, however, that leaders approach the bereavement as compassionately and as empathetically as possible, as failing to do so can have a noticeable and long-lasting impact on the workforce.
There are three main areas that employers need to address if a staff member dies, and these will allow the organization to offer its support and condolences, while also dealing with the legal and administrative implications.
1. Supporting the family of the staff member:
Upon hearing the news, employers should reach out to the family of the employee and offer their sympathy, as well as ask if there is anything they can do to help. After this initial contact, a more formal set of condolences can be sent – potentially in the form of flowers, or a book of condolences from the team.
It may also be appropriate to ask the family about the best way to commemorate their loved one at work – this will help highlight how valued they were as a team member and that the family is in the employer’s thoughts. Additionally, if the family agree, colleagues may wish to attend the funeral to pay their respects and have some closure.
It is also important to ensure that the family are aware of who and how to get in contact with the company in regard to the legalities of a sudden termination of employment due to these circumstances (such as pay, pension, life insurance).
2. Supporting colleagues:
It is very likely that some employees are going to be hit hard by the loss of a colleague, especially those who were particularly close to the deceased. It may be appropriate to consider offering compassionate leave to those greatly affected, as well as either directing them to in-house support services (such as Employee Assistance Programs) or external services such as Mind or the Good Grief Trust.
Be mindful that employees may grieve differently. If employers notice a dip in productivity or a change in the quality of an individual’s output, they should consider having a one-on-one meeting to see what they can do to help. From an inclusion perspective, religious and cultural beliefs can also influence how someone grieves, so this has to be taken into account (for instance, if someone requires a space to pray).
3. Dealing with the formalities:
From an organizational perspective, it is important for employers to ensure that they are taking the necessary and correct legal and administrative steps after the loss of an employee. While it can seem harsh, it is important that employers formally terminate the contract of the deceased staff member. This will be marked down as their ‘leaving date’ from a payroll perspective, and they should be paid the remainder of their salary for the month, as well as any accrued holiday pay.
Employers must also contact pension providers and notify their revenue service of the employee’s passing, as well as pass on the appropriate information about life insurance benefits the employee may have been receiving to their next of kin.
Dealing with the death of a co-worker is difficult and can have reverberating effects on colleagues and the wider organization. HR plays a vital role in helping to respond to, manage, and mitigate these effects, and so if you would like to discuss how we can help assist you in consolidating policies around this topic, please get in touch with us.