Coronavirus: coping as an employer | Cruse Bereavement Care

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The death of someone close is one of the hardest things anyone has to deal with. At this difficult and distressing time more people than ever will be affected, whether that’s due to the coronavirus or any other reason. If you are an employer, sadly more of your employees are likely to be bereaved, and more workplaces are having to deal with one of their staff members dying. 

We know that workplaces are also having to cope with added pressures and changes, whether that’s increased or decreased levels of work, people being furloughed or switching to homeworking or complex new safety procedures to follow. At home, your staff members will also be coping with the isolation which comes with social distancing rules, and may be cut off from their usual networks of support. But there are things you can do to help, and we are here to offer support and back up.

When your employee is bereaved

If you are an employer and one of your staff members is bereaved it can feel difficult to know how to help. But supporting them emotionally and practically at this time, as well as being the right thing to do, will help your staff member, their family, and other colleagues within your organisation.

Ideally, you will be prepared in advance, have a clear organisational bereavement policy and, where appropriate, trained staff. (Our training and consultancy team can help with this, more details below.) But even if you are not prepared, there is a lot you can do to help your employee and your organisation.

When you first hear about the bereavement, it is important to offer your condolences and make sure that your employee knows that work comes second at this time. Find out how they would like you to stay in touch, and respect their wishes. You should also ask how much information they would like to share with co-workers, and whether they want others to get in touch.

Stay in regular contact and when appropriate discuss with them how much time off they can take and when and how they return to work. There are links to the legal requirements below, but these are very much a minimum, and you will need to be guided by the individual situation. 

At the moment attendance at funerals is very limited, however employees might find it very hard to be working if they would have been at the funeral in the course of things, so we would recommend asking if they would still like to take this time to watch the service remotely, hold their own acts of memorial, or connect with other friends and family of the person who died.

Over time, remember that everyone grieves differently and there is no timescale for feeling better. Some people may cope well in the immediate aftermath of a bereavement but need support many months after the death.

When a bereaved person returns to work (or if they don’t take time off) there may well be times when concentration can be disrupted. You should try to take this into account, and support the employee through this period, agreeing together objectives which are realistic and achievable.  Pushing someone too hard at this stage can tend to result in people going off sick.

See more do’s and don’t’s for helping a bereaved employee

When one of your employees dies

When one of your employees dies, you will have to think carefully about how to support your other employees, perhaps at the same time as dealing with shock and grief yourself. The way the death of an employee is dealt with can have long-lasting implications on the relations between the employer, the workforce and the wider community. 

Communicating the news of the death to other employees is key, and the method of communication should be personal and sensitive. There may be areas of the organisation, for example the team where the person who died worked, that where people may be deeply affected. You should offer condolences and support to those affected wherever possible. 

You should also contact the family to offer condolences, and agree a point of contact for any questions they may have – for example, about pay, or pension arrangements. There may be appropriate ways of commemorating the person who has died and of marking key dates; the family should be consulted about these. 

If you do lose a colleague during the pandemic work colleagues are unlikely to be able to attend the funeral. However, there are a few things people can do to celebrate someone’s life without physically coming together. You may like to arrange a virtual meetup where colleagues can talk to each other and share memories of that person. Rituals are really important within the grieving process and things like sharing pictures, playing some of the person’s favourite music, writing a message to them, or lighting a candle can all be ways to remember the person’s life together.  There is also the option of holding a digital memorial or creating a digital condolences book. 

Any arrangements should be careful considered by managers and clearly communicated to the wider workforce, which make need extra care if people are working in different ways, or some staff are furloughed.

It is important to remember that we will not be under these restrictions forever. At some future point you may be able to hold a formal or informal memorial to those who have died. And we are here to speak to if you need us. 

What we can do

We at Cruse can support your employees if they have been bereaved. Please pass on the contact details of our local servcies or our National Freephone Helpline: 0808 808 1677. We can also help you directly if you have been affected by the death of an employee, are supporting many bereaved employees, or have been bereaved yourself now or in the past.

Our training and consultancy team can offer support in a number of ways:

The legal situation

You can read about the legal situation as regards time off for bereavement, and best practice guidance, on the acas website.