What to do when an employee dies

It can be hard to know what to do when a staff member dies. As a manager or business owner, you’ll need to take on responsibilities that may feel new and unfamiliar. It’s your job to support colleagues through their shock and grief, as well as deal with payroll, paperwork and other administrative tasks.

Every situation is different, so you’ll need to adjust your approach to suit the needs of your business and its staff. However, this article will talk you through the basics of what to do when an employee dies. We’ve also included links to websites and organisations where you can access additional support.

Overview of steps to take when an employee dies

Here are the basic steps to take if a staff member has died in the UK. We’ll explain this procedure in more detail below.

If an employee dies at work

In all circumstances

What to do when an employee dies at work

When an employee dies at work, there are some crucial steps you must take immediately.

Call the emergency services

The first thing to do is call 999 and tell them what has happened. By law, you must report a workplace death to the police, even if the person was working off-site when they died. They may also send an ambulance team to confirm the death and collect the person’s body.

Do not move the person’s body. Leave this to the emergency services.

Inform the Health and Safety Executive

You must also tell the relevant accident reporting authority about the death. For most businesses in England, Scotland and Wales, this is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

HSE Incident Contact Centre: 0845 300 9923

In Northern Ireland, the relevant authority is the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI). Visit this page for instructions on how to make a report.

Again, you must report the death even if the employee died off-site.

Steps to take in all circumstances

Follow these steps whether the employee died at work or off-duty.

Contact the employee’s family

If the employee died at work

The emergency services might contact the employee’s next of kin to let them know they’ve died. If they don’t, you’ll need to deliver the message.

This is a very difficult thing to do and there are no easy guidelines for how to do it. Just remember to be sensitive, compassionate and patient. And don’t be tempted to put it off – it’s important they’re informed as quickly as possible.

If you don’t feel up to it, you could ask a trusted colleague to call them. It’s best if this is someone who was close to the person who has died.

If they died outside of work

It’s a good idea to contact the person’s family when you hear about the death. They’ll appreciate the support and it will help you understand what steps to take next.

Make sure you do the following, if appropriate:

Expressing your condolences to their family

While it may be one of the hardest calls you ever have to make, offering your condolences could mean a lot to your employee’s family. Making contact by phone is usually the most personal way to share your condolences, but if you don’t feel able to do this, sending a heartfelt email or text message is an alternative.

You could also send a condolence card or flowers. Though it’s important to keep in mind that sending flowers and other gifts after someone has died isn’t considered suitable in all religions and cultures. If you’re in doubt, it’s worth checking first.

Announce the death to colleagues and provide support

The next step is to let the person’s workmates know that their colleague has died. Bear in mind that this might come as a shock to people, so it’s important to break the news gently and offer ongoing support.

Announcing the death of an employee

It’s up to you how to announce the death of your employee. Various things could influence your decision, like the circumstances of the person’s death, their relationships with colleagues and the size and setup of your business.

It’s also important to consider the wishes of the person’s family. Get their permission before announcing the death and use their preferred method of announcement if you can. Don’t delay your announcement unless the family has asked you to.

If the employee was particularly close to certain colleagues, it would be best to tell these colleagues first. Do this separately, privately and in person, if possible.

Next, pass the news on to all staff. You could do this via email, written letters or a staff debriefing. Here are a few tips:

After you’ve informed staff, it’s worth letting clients or customers know too – especially if they worked closely with the person who has died. Take the same approach here: be gentle and reassuring and share relevant details such as funeral times.

Coping with grief in the workplace when an employee dies

Dealing with the death of an employee is difficult for everyone involved. That’s why it’s important to put a plan in place to help people cope.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Be clear about the support you’ll offer

The most important thing is to let people know you’re there for them. Make it clear that they can contact a manager or another appointed person for support.

Let people know about other ways to get help

If your business offers counselling through an employee assistance programme, let staff know how to access it. Otherwise, direct them to a bereavement charity. Here’s a list of bereavement charities in the UK.

Show patience and understanding

Give people time and space to process their loss. This is especially important for those who worked closely with the person or were close friends with them. If at all possible, allow people time off to go to the funeral or to help with their mental health.

Bear in mind that productivity will be affected. Don’t penalise people if their work suffers because of their grief.

Keep communicating

Remember that bereavement support is an ongoing process. Some people will feel the effects of grief for months or even years. Be sure to check in regularly with staff to ask how they’re coping and let them know that support is still available.

Important: be sensitive to personal, cultural and religious differences among staff. These can affect how people cope with and express their grief. Remind employees that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.

How to honour an employee who died

A good way to offer your support is to provide a place where staff can share condolences and memories of the person who has died. This could be:

Deal with contract and payroll tasks

These are complicated topics, so we’ve only covered the basics here. For more information, visit GOV.UK.

Terminate their employment contract

What happens when an employee dies is that their employment contract becomes ‘frustrated’. This is a legal term that means ‘one of the parties is unable to fulfil their contracted duties’.

In practice, this means you should treat it as if the employee left your business on the day they died. The contract is considered automatically terminated, though you shouldn’t issue a P45.

Deal with payroll

For payroll, use the employee’s date of death as their leaving date. If they worked from Monday to Friday and died on a weekend, use the date of the Friday before.

You should pay wages into their bank account as normal. Remember to include any accrued holiday pay – again, as if they had left your business voluntarily.

Deal with pensions and tax

You must tell the employee’s pension provider that they have died and that no more payments will be made.

You must also tell HMRC. You can do this by sending a full payment submission (FPS). For detailed instructions, visit GOV.UK.

Tell the person’s family about any employee benefits

The employee may have taken advantage of employee benefits like life insurance or death in service benefit. If so, let their relatives know about these benefits and how to access them. The payouts from policies like these could provide much-needed financial support.

Deal with personal belongings and company equipment

At some point, you’ll need to sort out the person’s possessions and clear their work area. It’s up to you to decide when to do this.

Let’s take an office environment as an example. If an office employee dies, you might have to think about:

Bear in mind that colleagues might find it distressing if they see you clearing out the person’s desk or locker. It might be best to do it after most staff have left for the day.

You may even want to consider changing the seating arrangement in the person’s office. Colleagues may feel uncomfortable using the person’s desk or sitting next to it. Changing things around or moving the desk into storage can help people cope.

Useful resources