No matter what the circumstances, dealing with the death of an employee is a daunting task for any leader. There are not only concerns about the well-being of your staff but there are practical things that also need to be done that may feel overwhelming.
As a leader, it falls on you to lead your employees through the days and weeks following the event. For better or worse, employees will be looking to you for guidance and will remember how you handled the tumultuous situation.
The best thing you can do when confronted with the death of an employee is to have a plan ready and in place. Scrambling to figure out what your next steps are in the immediate aftermath will leave you overwhelmed and more likely to make a misstep.
Below are different things you should consider when creating a plan in the event of losing an employee:
As soon as you get word of the employee’s death, you should immediately communicate to the following people in the following ways:
- Notify other managers or supervisors, including HR. Start with the person who is the most critical to know.
- Notify your staff and let them know that details will be forthcoming.
- Being sensitive to the grieving family, ask for a contact that can provide details about funeral arrangements as they’re made. In the future, use this contact to arrange benefits procedures when appropriate.
- To prevent the family from being overwhelmed with calls and messages, designate an internal contact person to act as an intermediary between your employees and the family.
Keeping Business Moving
It may feel wrong, but the truth of the matter is that even with the death of a valued employee, your business and clients don’t stop. You need to make sure that your business doesn’t come to a screeching halt during this difficult time. To make the event less interruptive:
- Notify any clients or customers who had direct relationships with the employee and reassign the work as appropriate.
- Arrange for phone calls, voicemail messages, emails, and any other forms of communication to be forwarded to a different person.
- Coordinate counseling opportunities for your employees who are impacted. Make sure you are supporting the emotional needs employees may have including paid time off if appropriate.
- Begin the termination process with HR following the normal procedures your company has established.
Funeral or Memorial Services
Funerals or memorial services are a big part of the grieving process. Allow employees to participate in those events however they can. This might include:
- Send flowers from the staff to the family or funeral home. If donations are requested in lieu of flowers, organize a collection on your staff’s behalf.
- Coordinate time off for employees to attend any services during business hours. Be as flexible as possible with employees who wish to attend and pay their respects.
- If it aligns with your company’s culture, consider making a special tribute to the employee. This could be a plaque in the office, a memorial bench outside, or a memory book with notes and pictures for the family.
- If the employee has left young children behind, consider creating an educational fund with a local financial institution where employees can contribute to that future expense.
It feels like the worst timing, but there are logistical things that need to happen when someone passes away. These steps should be taken with the help of HR to finalize the termination process and to provide the family with the benefits they are entitled to:
- Identify beneficiary designations for all benefits the employee had through HR. Schedule a time to meet with them when possible to discuss the employee’s final benefits.
- Consult HR, payroll, or legal counsel regarding your state’s laws regarding final pay for deceased employees. They should also be able to guide you when it comes to dealing with unused vacation, sick time, or PTO.
- Identify the paperwork the family will need to process things such as life insurance, pension/401K, or workers’ compensation death benefits if applicable.
- File appropriate paperwork to terminate health insurance benefits.
- Notify the employee’s family about procedures for reimbursement through flexible spending accounts to cover health expenses before the employee’s death.
- Submit appropriate COBRA paperwork for any dependents that were on the employee’s group health coverage.
- Discuss with family at an appropriate time how they would like personal belongings in the office to be handled. Offer to pack and deliver these belongings for them if they prefer not to be involved. Also, arrange with them the return of any keys, technology, or other property that belongs to the company.
Losing an employee can be an emotional and stressful experience. Knowing what you have to do before you have to do it is the best way you can handle the situation. However, above all things, remember to give support to your grieving staff and make sure you take care of yourself during that emotional time as well.
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