Dealing with the death of a team member
Dealing with a team member's death is one of the most difficult issues that a manager might have to face. The way the death is dealt with by us as the employer can have lasting implications on your team, the wider workforce and sometimes the wider community. This guidance aims to support managers in dealing with this difficult situation in a structured and supportive way that prevents any additional distress for colleagues and bereaved relatives.
Who to tell about the death of a team member
If a death occurs in the workplace you must call the emergency services. Do not move the person before the emergency services arrive, unless it's medically necessary to do so.
Whether or not the death occurred at work, you must inform the person’s manager as soon as possible. If the person’s manager is not available, you should inform another appropriate senior manager.
If as a manager you have a death within your team you should contact their HR Business Partner for specific advice. Contact the HR Advisory Service or contact the Employee Wellbeing Team if the HR Business Partner is not available. The HR Business Partner will support the manager with:
- identifying an appropriate nominated contact for the next of kin, which is usually the line manager but may be another appropriate manager
- informing the person’s Executive Director and arranging for the Corporate Director to send a letter of condolence
- informing the Communications team who will respond to any media interest
- informing Health and Safety of the details if the death is a result of an accident at work
- informing the Employee Wellbeing Adviser who can offer support and guidance to the manager and their team
- making the necessary payroll and pensions arrangements and writing to the next of kin about these arrangements
- dealing with staff implications
- informing the chairman of the council so that they can send a handwritten letter of condolence
Notifying next of kin
In most cases the next of kin will be aware of the death, but this may not always be the case so always check when you're notified of a death.
Depending on the circumstances the police may take responsibility for informing the next of kin and may ask the manager to provide details, which should be recorded on DES as ’emergency contact’. If the next of kin are not aware and the police are not going to inform the next of kin then a manager who knew the employee may well be the most appropriate person, or sometimes a colleague who knew the family well.
Bear in mind that no one wants to hear of the death of a loved one, friend or colleague via social media. Before next of kin have been informed, news of the death should be limited to those who need to know. Those who are aware of the situation must know who they can and can’t talk to. If other staff members are prevented from talking to colleagues before the next of kin is informed, consider where they can go and who they can talk to in private. They may or may not wish to finish work early, go home or take time to be on their own.
Talking about the death of a team member
Depending on circumstances there may be media interest. You must refer any enquiries from the media to the Communications team.
Once it is known that next of kin have been informed, and we have permission to do so from the next of kin, an appropriate manager must inform other members of the team or service. Communicating the news of the death to other employees is key. This will need to be done with sensitivity and compassion and should be done with as much honesty as possible about the cause of death (provided consent has been given to release this information by the next of kin).
It is advisable to:
- inform those closest to the employee first and communicate the news in a private environment
- allow staff time to support each other at work as well as time off to grieve and/or to attend the funeral, taking into account service delivery and time off policies. We know that at this time staff will not be able to attend funerals due to restrictions on numbers in attendance but as an alternative consideration may be given to taking some time on the day of the funeral to reflect on their colleague
- operate an open door policy to those staff members suffering from emotional distress
- encourage employees to seek support if necessary from the Employee Wellbeing team. Employees who are members of a trade union may also be able to access support from their trade union
- consider opportunities to remember the person who has died such as a memory book or a lunchtime walk. Talk to your team about their suggestions. Due to social distancing you should do this on-line or virtually using phone or Skype for example. Although not ideal they will still be important to give teams the time to get together to talk
- tell staff to refer to the Communications Team if they're contacted by the media, without making further comment
- take advice from the HR Business Partner and the Communications team about whether wider staff communications is appropriate
- look after your own emotional needs too
- visit the Cruse bereavement charity website for more information
If members of the person’s family are also employed by the council, they will be entitled to compassionate leave. It may also be appropriate to consider whether colleagues who were particularly close to the individual may also need to take some time off as compassionate leave.
A decision will need to be made if customers and suppliers who dealt with the employee are to be informed and how this will be done. The approach will largely depend on the relationship that each service or person had with the employee. For some it may be appropriate to send a letter for others a telephone call would be preferable. Service users will need to be kept informed of any disruption or alteration to service provision.
In some circumstances, such as a suicide, you and your team may need a greater level of support, including help about how to talk about the situation. Make sure you contact the Employee Wellbeing team who can provide advice about these difficult circumstances.
Supporting the family
A letter of condolence needs to be sent to the next of kin by the Corporate Director. The letter should provide the next of kin with a named contact who can keep them informed of salary and pension payments and can act as a contact point for any queries or concerns.
The chairman of the council, Pauline Batstone also sends a handwritten letter to the next of kin. Email Councillor Pauline Batstone, Chairman of Dorset Council: firstname.lastname@example.org and copy in her personal assistant: email@example.com. Include the following information:
- the name of the deceased employee
- their job title
- their directorate and service
- a brief description of their role
- the number of years' service they had, including details of any previous sovereign council they worked for
- the cause of death if known and if their next of kin has given permission for you to share this information
- the name and address of the next of kin and their relationship to the deceased, for example, husband, wife, son or daughter
When a date for the funeral is set it's best to check with the next of kin whether colleagues are welcome or able to attend and if flowers, books of condolences or other memorials would be acceptable and allow employees to contribute towards this. Don’t make any assumptions about what will be appropriate.
We are aware that at the current time that only immediate family can attend a funeral and it's possible that even these very restricted numbers may be stopped. Many families will be arranging memorials or celebrations of life later in the year so the manager should endeavour to remain in contact with the family to understand what the future arrangements might be.
There might be an appropriate way of commemorating the person at work. The family and next of kin should be consulted about this.
It is that you inform the council Wellbeing Team of the death as they can offer advice, guidance and signposting where appropriate.
Payroll and pension arrangements if a team member dies
When someone dies, this will often lead to changes in the financial circumstances of their bereaved family. The council can support the next of kin by ensuring that payroll and pension administration is as seamless and efficient as possible.
As the manager you should write to the next of kin or, if not known, to the informant to:
- let them know the name and contact details of the nominated contact
- inform them that they will be written to in due course by Human Resources to confirm details of final salary owing, and also by the relevant pension administrator if applicable with details of arrangements for release of pension benefits
- request the name and address of the next of kin/beneficiary/estate administrator of the deceased member of staff if not already known
The leaver e-form when a team member dies
When a manager is notified of the death of an employee, they must complete the leaver e-form in DES as soon as possible. While this may not seem to be the most pressing concern in the circumstances, doing so will start the process of managing the financial arrangements for the family and ensure that there isn’t any unnecessary delay in administration and that adjustments do not need to be made at a later date.
The leaver e-form will mean that:
- pay will be frozen from the date of death
- the relevant pensions administrator will be informed
Additionally, the manager will need to provide contact details for next of kin, beneficiary or estate administrator information by email to HR Payroll Support. If this is not known immediately, this information should be passed to HR Payroll Support as soon as possible.
The next of kin will be contacted by:
- HR Payroll Support who will write to confirm the details of salary together with the process of any payments to be made. This process will usually take one month after the date of the death. In cases where the beneficiary requires urgent receipt of the final salary payment, the manager should discuss the details with their HR Payroll Support team contact
- the relevant pensions administrator
Death of a former member of staff
While not all of the above will be necessary if a former member of staff dies, when you as a manager becomes aware of the death, you should consider whether any of the guidance is still appropriate. This may depend on:
- how long the person worked for the council
- how recently they left
- how close they’ve remained to existing staff
The manager will still need to consider how they talk to staff about the death and whether it’s appropriate to nominate someone to be in contact with the family.
If a manager is notified of a death of a former member of staff, they should always inform the appropriate pensions administrator..
Personal information reminder for you and your team
It is important to enter your emergency contact details on DES if you have not already done so. It may not be something you want to think about but if this happened to you, you would like your next of kin to be informed as quickly as possible.
If you’re a member of a workplace pension scheme, make sure you have completed a nomination form for who you want to receive your death in service benefits.