What to Do When an Employee Dies

This post is about a serious topic - how a DECENT company deals with the death of one of its employees.

My husband and I have both had some first-hand experience with this. Both incidents were long ago, but the wounds are still fresh.   Let's just say that both employers handled some of it well, but some of it was handled just horribly. Enough that people still talk about it.

So, managers and execs, listen up.  In the unexpected and unfortunate event that an employee dies, keep the following in mind.

  1. If the employee died in the office, hire some grief counselors and bring them onsite the very next day.  

  2. If you are the manager of this employee, be decent and either call or meet with the spouse or next of kin yourself.  If you knew the employee pretty well, you are most likely the most appropriate person to break the news.  Don't be a wussy and leave this to some anonymous HR person. BE SENSITIVE.  If you have difficulty being sensitive, ask someone who IS sensitive what you should say.  And don't delay!

  3. When the time is right, ask the next of kin about funeral arrangements and ask if co-workers might attend.

  4. If co-workers are invited, allow employees to attend the funeral.  If you don't give them time off, well you're just an asshole. 

  5. If the employee's manager is at a different location, have him/her travel to the funeral.  If the employee was particularly close to workers at remote locations, perhaps offer to pay for travel for these other workers.

  6. Stop worrying about "setting precedent" with regard to offering benefits or assistance to the family.  Just do the fucking right thing, okay?  Hint: if you use "setting precedent" as an excuse, more than likely you're being a jerk and NOT doing the right thing.

  7.  As the manager (or other point of contact for the family), keep in touch with the family over the next month or so.  At least once a week.  Ask how they are doing, what you can do to help them out.  

    Realize that despite the awkwardness, the next of kin might need to immediately learn about financial matters (such as last paychecks, medical benefits, life insurance, pensions, stock, etc). Some people live paycheck to paycheck, and the stress of figuring out their future financial situation is one thing you CAN do for the family during a time like this.  The family also needs to figure out how to get the deceased's personal effects back  and how to return company property the deceased employee had at home.

  8. Please, be decent and lobby to extend COBRA health insurance benefits to the widow(er) and dependent children for at least 18 months at no cost to the family. It is indeed possible for your company to do this; fight for it on behalf of the family.

  9. Have someone set up a fund with the bank where people can make donations for the support of the deceased's children. Publicize it through the company, but don't strong arm people into donating.  And maybe make the donations anonymous so that the family doesn't have to write thankyou notes (another detail that they must attend to at a very hard time for them).

  10.  Send flowers.  For employees who cannot make the funeral, allow them to write notes of condolence and deliver them to the family.

  11. When packing up the employees stuff and returning it, please be sensitive and respect his/her privacy.

  12.  Don't move another employee directly into the deceased employee's cube, office, or desk.  Leave it empty for a while. It might be a good place to put server equipment and such in the meantime.