Dealing with a death of an employee can be a tragic and challenging time. Fortunately, it is unlikely to happen that often so you shouldn’t have to deal with it regularly.
When it does, however, not only have you lost a colleague, but your workforce will need to deal with the shock that it will have on the organisation, so it’s important to have clear HR policies in place to make this tough time as straightforward as possible for everyone involved.
It’s never a nice time and your focus is likely to be on many things, so here are a few steps that can help you along the way in dealing with the impact.
1. Actions a Company Should Take Upon Hearing of an Employee’s Death
The first thing you should do as a business is consult the grieving family of the employee and ask if there’s anything that you can do to help. 99% of the time, there isn’t anything you can do, but it’s a nice gesture to offer and they can feel reassured that they have the company’s support. Remember, it is likely the employee would have been important to a number of people, including your business, so ensure your sympathies come across meaningfully as its ok to be a bit more informal at this time and to have come across as heartfelt and concerned.
Consider sending your condolences following on from contacting the family. Traditionally this is with flower however there are all different alternatives to flowers, such as making a workplace donation to a charity of the family’s choice or circulating a sympathy card. Small gestures like these can really comfort the family during this difficult time by knowing they are in your thoughts.
Before announcing the news to the business, consult the employee’s family to seek permission to announce the death. Although you will need to announce it at some stage, its courteous to ask the family beforehand. Depending on the family and business’s preference, announcing the news would be best to through a gathering in the office if appropriate. Alternatively, the announcement could be in the form of a letter or an email to staff.
Be aware that it’s never easy announcing or receiving this type of news. There will be certain people that would have been closer to the employee than others, but everyone reacts differently to shock and grief, so offer support to all. Reassure the staff that they can and should discuss this with a manager or appointed member of staff at any point, and maybe create a ‘quiet place’ where people can go if they are feeling overwhelmed and just need a bit of space.
If you have a specific Employee Assistance Program in place, this can offer various services such as counselling, therapies and advice to those struggling to deal with the news. If not, direct your workforce to charities like ‘Mind’ who can offer support with bereavement.
When the time comes, allow those who wish to attend the funeral to go, as long as you have appropriate cover for your business and that the family are happy for colleagues to attend. Letting colleagues attend isn’t a legal obligation but it’s a nice form of etiquette for the business to offer and shows your compassion and respect towards the deceased.
2. Terminating the Deceased Employee’s Employment
It seems a bit harsh, but you must terminate the deceased employee’s employment the same way if an employee had left your organisation. The employment contract becomes “frustrated” on the date the employee died, and therefore the contractual agreement between the employer and employee has come to an end.
For the payroll, you will need to make the day the employee died (or if it was on a weekend the Friday before), their last day of work as if it was their leaving date. The pay should be paid into their bank account as normal as probate will sort out the finances in due course. Remember to include any accrued holiday payments.
Pension and Tax
You will also need to contact the pension provider that there pension contributions will cease and notify HMRC of the employee’s passing by sending off a ‘full payment submission’ after processing them as a leaver.
If the employee had any benefits such as life assurance, inform the family and let them know how to apply for it. The employee may have nominated certain beneficiaries to receive some or all of their life assurance, so inform those individuals who it relates to. Although this doesn’t bring the person back, it’s a nice benefit for those to receive and may help during the grieving process.
3. Business Activities after the Deceased Employee has Left
It’s up to the business when you feel it’s appropriate to remove the employee’s personal belongings, and these will need to be returned to the family in due course. Depending on the reaction from the workforce from the death, decide whether it may be more appropriate to remove the belongings once everyone has left the office/ site as this can also cause some distress.
Depending on where the employee sat or was located, it may be worth moving office desks around if necessary, so someone isn’t staring straight at where the deceased used to sit.
If the employee had any company property such as a laptop, contact the family members to see if this could be returned, but in their own time as this may not be on their radar straight away.
When it comes to the recruitment of the former employee, each business is different as some may need the role filled urgently if the role is considered vital, and others may take more time to recruit so they can have some time to process the death. Nothing is right or wrong so remember to play alongside the business’s needs.
4. Getting Help after the Death of an Employee
Nothing about the death of an employee is nice or simple, as it creates a huge shock to everyone who knew them. However, this guidance can assist you during that difficult time, so you are more prepared in case it was to ever occur.