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10 tips for handling the death of an employee

When a staff member dies, what steps do you need to take? Calvin Sun looks at how managers can handle the situation sensitively and pragmatically.

We may dislike discussing or thinking about death, but sooner or later it may happen to one of your employees. As a manager, when you hear of the death of an employee, the following tips may help at this difficult time.

1: Contact the family

Ask for as much information as the family is comfortable giving. Get details on any funeral services, and for whom the services will be, keeping in mind that the family might want only a small group of immediate relatives to attend. Make sure that the family contact knows whom to contact in your company for benefits-related issues or offer to be the go-between yourself.

2: Make a timely announcement

Even though others on your staff might already have heard, you should still consider making a personal announcement via a meeting. Keep things simple, sharing whatever details the family is comfortable with sharing, and in particular about any memorial services that are planned. You might want to add a few words about your favorite memory of the person or how that person had an impact on you. You might also want to prepare a formal statement in the event that the decedent was well known professionally.

3: Notify others

As soon as you can, notify others beyond the immediate work group. Such persons might include fellow employees in other offices, key customers or clients, and any suppliers the person was working with. These people will appreciate your letting them know. In addition, you will need to make arrangements regarding continuing coverage of the person's work.

Sending out an email is another good idea. In this case, be simple with the subject line. Use just the decedent's name, or follow with "RIP" or years of birth and death. To avoid needless concern, refrain from using a "name only" subject in other circumstances. For example, if John Smith was just promoted, avoid saying just "John Smith" in your subject line. Instead, say something like "Congratulations to John Smith" or "John Smith promotion."

4: Ensure coverage/continuity

In addition to sharing the news of the person's passing with your staff, you also need to discuss, practically speaking, how to ensure continual progress on the person's work. When you talk with suppliers, vendors, or remote employees, find out the open items, major issues, and immediate tasks that were associated with the person. Once you have this information, you will need to meet with your staff and figure out how to distribute the person's work.

5: Determine, as best as possible, the person's future commitments

You will also need to discover as much information about any future appointments or commitments. For example, was the person scheduled to do a presentation at a conference or convention? If so, you will need to contact the event planner and either cancel the commitment or find someone else to do it.

6: Disable computer access, badge access, and other matters

The person who passed away may have had permissions that allowed access to your computers, telephones, and physical premises. Revoke all access just as you would for a terminated or resigned employee. Leaving such access in place creates a risk of unauthorized access by someone else.

7: Place voicemail into announce-only mode

If possible, put the person's voicemail into an announce-only mode. Doing so will cause callers to hear a voicemail greeting (see next point for details) without being able to leave a message. You and your staff will have enough things to do without having to worry about checking one more voice mailbox.

8: Re-record the person's voicemail greeting or forward the phone calls

Nothing is more surreal or tragically ironic than hearing a decedent say in a voicemail greeting that he or she is unable to take the call. So you (or someone you delegate) should record a new greeting. You need not go into detail, but merely tell the caller whom to contact, depending on the nature of the call. Another option is to forward the phone to someone who can handle the decedent's matters. In this case, that other person should modify his or her own voicemail greeting to add something like "If you were trying to reach [name of decedent], please be aware that I am handling his/her matters." As before, going into further detail in the greeting is unnecessary. The situation can be explained to callers later.

9: Ensure retrieval of all messages

If you are planning to remove the decedent's voicemail box, or at least to lock it, make sure you have retrieved any messages that might still be in it. This point is important because some voicemail systems might not allow you to retrieve messages once a mailbox is locked.

10: Set up auto-respond or forwarding for email

Take care of the person's email by setting up auto-respond (with information on whom the sender should contact, depending on the sender's questions) and setting up an auto-forward of the sender's message to the right person.

Other advice?

What other tips do you have for managers who are handling the death of an employee? Share your experiences and suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

3 comments
sissy sue
sissy sue

Thanks for reminding us that an employee who spends more time at work than with his family and loved ones is completely replaceable. I always tell the overachiever that if he happens to die, everyone at work will feel bad. The company will send flowers and his manager and co-workers will attend the viewing and maybe the funeral. Then, two weeks later or less, while the family and loved ones are still grieving the loss, the company will be looking for a replacement or spreading the work among the employees who are left, and the decedent will be forgotten. There is a well-worn quote: A doctor or a priest has never heard anyone say on his deathbed that he wished he had spent more time at work.

jkameleon
jkameleon

The reason for celebration: At the next round of layoffs, one of the remaining employees will be spared.

WCarlS
WCarlS

The article, while well-meaning, seems to recapitulate the blindingly obvious. Except for contacting the family for info, the rest is standard for whenever you terminate someone's employment. What would you do if they die at work?