The death of an employee can be a difficult time for a company, especially when the death involves a long-time employee.  If human resources has not had to deal with the death of an employee, they may be unsure as how to proceed. There are some simple steps that all companies can take so that everything continues to run smoothly after the passing of an employee.

First, it is always advisable to have an immediate response upon finding out that an employee has passed away. HR and any employees that were team members of the employee who passed or that worked closely with the employee should be notified about the death. The notification should be simple, kind, and should only share limited details about the passing. If individuals were close to the employee, it may be useful to provide information about the funeral service or memorials, if you are aware of that information. Also, if employee had any business relationships with customers or suppliers that developed through their employment with the company, it is advisable to also reach out to these individuals and inform them of the employee’s passing in a considerate manner.  

In regard to company property, when an employee passes away a company should follow their normal termination and security procedures. This includes terminating employee’s access to company systems including computer access and building access. If the deceased employee was in possession of company property, the company should reach out to the employee’s family contact person to arrange the return of that property. Keep in mind that the employee may have personal effects at the workplace, so the company will need to make sure to return those to the family contact person as well. If the family does not want to be involved in the return or pick up of the property, a trusted coworker of the deceased employee can always be sent to gather the property from wherever it is located.

It will also be necessary to transition the work that the employee was doing. It is important to determine which individual will be handling phone calls and emails directed to the deceased employee and then notify this individual so that they are prepared. Employers should sit down with the deceased employee’s supervisors/managers, team members, and any other individual that may be aware of deceased employee’s ongoing work, to discuss any outstanding issues or tasks that need attention. Also, employers should be thoughtful about how quickly that fill the deceased employee’s position. Companies may want to consider avoiding immediately advertising for a replacement and instead may want to fill the role through a temporary employment agency for a short period of time to be sensitive to its’ employees’ need to remember their colleague.

Issuing final wages is typically one of the toughest issues employers deals with when an employee passes away. You may receive calls from numerous family members who request that the final paycheck be sent to them. As a rule, employers should never make the employee’s final paycheck payable to anyone other than the employee, including the deceased employee’s spouse or children. If a company does this, they could be held responsible to creditors of the deceased employee for the amount improperly paid out. A company can mail final check to the employee’s last known address on file. Or the company can issue the check and hold on to it until they are contacted by the personal representative of the employee’s estate. If a company elects to do the latter, they should always ask for copy of court’s letters of appointment from the personal representative, prior to providing the check to them.

There also may be times where the deceased employee’s estate does not include real property and is not large enough to go through probate. In that case, an individual may be able to claim an employee’s final paycheck by providing a Simple or Small Estate Affidavit. Again, make sure to get a copy of the affidavit, prior to providing the employee’s last paycheck.

Just like with payroll, the employer should begin processing any benefits payments and notify and third-party administrators that may oversee benefit plans. The company should locate all beneficiary designation forms for all benefits the deceased employee may have had including life insurance, flexible spending accounts, and retirement plans. Beneficiaries should be contacted and advised that they can make a claim for benefits. It is always helpful to also inform them that they will likely need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate to each plan and/or policy.

A death of an employee, especially if it is unexpected, can be a difficult time for everyone at a company. It is important that all companies have policies and procedures in place for handling the passing of any employee, so that the transition can be done as smoothly as possible.