Handling the death of an employee

Women Railway Workers - WW2

This week, Donna from Sekoya shares thoughts about handling the death of an employee.

See our Death in the Workplace checklist for other ideas.

“Dealing with death can be difficult. But what happens when it is an employee? In addition to the emotions there are also logistical issues for the business owner or manager when handling the death of an employee.

Announcement (internal): The first issue is to tell colleagues. This should be done sensitively; perhaps agreeing timing with a partner or family. Agree the wording with them first and then meet with employees rather than sending an impersonal email. Be prepared for shock and grief, especially if it is unexpected. Allow employees some time to come to terms with the news and only give information that the family has agreed you can share. Ask for volunteers to continue with vital services for the immediate period after giving the news. Remember to inform those on sick leave, maternity or paternity leave or out of the office for other reasons.

Announcement (external): You are going to need to inform people outside of the organisation of the employee’s passing. We would always advise to have a form of words ready for callers coming through reception or other employees who will have to share the news externally. This should be agreed with the family if possible and ensures that no one says something inappropriate in the moment.

Funeral: Other employees’ attendance at the funeral can be a difficult issue. The family may wish to keep it intimate. If they are happy to open it to colleagues, you still need to run a business. How do you choose who can go without your business grinding to a halt? If the employee was someone well-loved, make the decision to either close for the duration (if it is local) or canvas opinion over who wishes to go. If only a few wish to go, our advice is always to allow it as paid leave. There is no law that governs this – it’s at your discretion.

Pay: If the employee worked up until the date of passing, the estate should be credited with at least the pay accrued until that date. You may pay more if you wish, but if you do, pay this separately – otherwise it will be treated as income and be taxed accordingly. You do not need to deduct National Insurance from this final payment. In the ‘date of leaving’ field in your next Full Payment Submission (FPS), you should use the date of death and deduct tax using their existing tax code. You do not need to produce a P45.

Return of belongings: Another aspect of handling the death of an employee is dealing with their belongings. It is inevitable that the employee will have personal items at work. These can bring comfort to families or cause more pain. Our advice is to let the family know that you have them. Box them up and store them until the family asks for them. Unless the employee had keys or other things pivotal to the role, try not to contact the family during the initial few weeks about operational issues. The suggested time frame for making arrangements for return of belongings is 4 weeks but this is completely at your discretion and dependent on the circumstances.

Benefits and Pensions: Following a death, finances for any partner or family might be an issue. Funerals are expensive and the main wage may have been cut from the household. Check if your business has a pension for the employee or any death-in-service benefits. Find out what the terms of the policies are. If you can, release any funds due under these benefits schemes as soon as you can or help the family access the benefits if they would appreciate the help. This might come as a huge relief to the family.

And finally….

Once you are past the immediate logistics of handling the death of an employee, think about recognising their achievements. Recognising an employee’s achievements after death can be a wonderful thing for the family. If you had intended to give the employee a special prize at the Christmas party – still do it and perhaps ask a representative from the family to come along to accept it on their behalf.

Every little helps.”

Donna Negus, Sekoya Limited T: 01872 306100   M: 07973 502256

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