When a staff member dies

When someone in employment dies, as well as affecting family and friends it will have an impact at their place of work. If you are an employer and one of your staff members dies, you may have to think carefully about how to support your other employees, and help the family of the staff member who has died, whilst at the same time feeling very upset and shaken yourself.

In some situations a death can have an impact on a number of employees, or across the whole workforce. Sometimes the death may be unexpected. Sometimes it may have occurred at or near the place of work, and in other cases a number of the dead person’s family or friends are employed at the same place of work.

The way the death of an employee is dealt with can have long-lasting implications (positive or negative) 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 are particularly affected and they may need more support.

The employer should 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. Practical points like books of condolence and attendance at the funeral should be considered by managers and clearly communicated to the wider workforce. There may be appropriate ways of commemorating the person who has died and of marking key dates; the family should be consulted about these. How an organisation deals with events such as this will usually define their culture and the attachment that employees generally have to the organisation.

For more information on managing bereavement in the workplace read the full Acas guidance Managing bereavement in the workplace – a good practice guide, produced in consultation with Cruse Bereavement Care.

Case study

Andrea, a team leader at a cleaning company, was killed in a road crash driving home from work. The managing director, Peter, received a call from one of Andrea’s close friends, a co-worker during that evening in a very distressed state.

Although Peter was shaken himself, he spoke to members of Andrea’s team as soon as they arrived at work and then called all the staff together to tell them personally what had happened, express his condolences to Andrea’s friends and colleagues, and explain how the company would be supporting Andrea’s family and affected employees. He allowed members of Andrea’s team to go home early if they wished – most declined as they found it helpful to be together even though they were not able to focus well on work.

Peter set up a small group of employees to help the organisation through the situation. Key customers who might be affected were contacted and proved very supportive. Other teams in the business stepped in to take on some of the work of Andrea’s team. Peter spoke to Andrea’s family to express his condolences and to ensure that the company observed their wishes for the funeral. As a mark of respect the company closed for two hours on the morning of the funeral so that everyone who wanted to could attend.

Over time Peter noticed that his relationship with many employees had changed. They were happier to approach him directly with thoughts and ideas and despite losing a close colleague their motivation seemed very good. There were still difficult days but overall the business had gained in standing and reputation from the way it had reacted to a terrible situation.

This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.