When an employee dies, it can be a good idea for management to let the other employees know via a formal announcement. It can also be appropriate for employers to inform team members if one of their coworkers loses an immediate family member. Team members are naturally going to experience grief upon losing a coworker and may want to offer sympathy to a team member who is grieving. In these situations, though, an employer's first priority should be to honor and respect the wishes of the now-deceased employee's family or the current employee who has lost a loved one.
Making an Employee Death Announcement
If an employee dies, it is very likely that a family member will contact that employee's manager or HR contact with the news. Whoever gets the news first should, of course, express sympathy to the family in an appropriate way. It's also important to inquire about any arrangements, requests, or needs the family may have at this time. Ask for permission to share the details with the employee's coworkers and indicate that, with their permission, you'll pass on word of what has happened to the coworkers. From there, the next step will be to decide how to tell the employee's immediate team members and how to announce what has occurred to the full team.
Immediate Team Announcement
For the people who worked on the employee's day-to-day team, it is best for the manager or another company leader to announce the news to everyone at the same time. This is true whether the news is expected or if the employee's death was sudden.
- It would be ideal to assemble the team for a meeting (in-person or virtual) so the manager or another member of the leadership team can deliver the news to them personally, all at the same time.
- If that is not possible, individual phone calls or in-person conversations with those who worked most closely with the individual are an option. This, however, will likely be much more stressful for the manager.
- Another option would be sending email messages to the employee's immediate team members, but this option should be used only if it is not feasible to deliver the message to the full group (or a majority of the group) at the same time.
Regardless of which approach you choose, be tactful and respectful when delivering the news. State what happened, share what you know (inasmuch as it would be appropriate to do so), acknowledge the loss to the team and the company as well as to the employee's family and friends (including those from work). Share any details you have about funeral arrangements as well as any information the family asked you to pass on about their wishes or the wishes of the deceased individual.
Once the deceased employee's team has been notified, the next step will be to make an announcement to everyone in the organization should be notified. Depending on your company's structure, you may want to send an announcement to everyone in the company or only to the location or division where the employee worked. You can use email for this announcement, though if there are employees who should be notified that don't use a company email address regularly, consider instructing their direct supervisor to share the news to them. The email could say something like:
[XYZ Company Team],
I am saddened to announce that [First Name] [Last Name] passed away on [insert date]. [He/she] was an important part of the [insert company name] team and will be greatly missed.
[Employee name's] [specify relative or just say family member] notified the company yesterday]. We have expressed deepest sympathies and condolences on behalf of everyone at the [XYZ team].
[Employee name's] family has provided the following information about funeral arrangements.
The company will be [specify any action the company will be taking if applicable, such as sending a floral arrangement, having food taken to the family, etc.]
[First name] [Last name], [Title]
Variations to Consider
The sample message above is very basic. It should be adjusted as appropriate based on the facts of the specific circumstance you are dealing with. See respectful death announcement sample emails for additional examples you may want to consider.
- If the employee has been sick for a long time and the situation was generally known by everyone in the company, you may want to mention something related to that. Of course, don't share any protected health information. This would be appropriate in situations such that co-workers had been donating blood or PTO days to assist the individual (or similar).
- If the death was due to an accident or other sudden, unexpected occurrence, you may also want to mention that in the message. However, you should get the family's permission before doing so.
- It is possible that funeral arrangements are not yet known. If so, simply specify this information and let employees know if they should expect further details to be provided by the company.
Announcing the Death of an Employee's Family Member
If an employee loses an immediate family member, it may be appropriate to announce this information to workers on the employee's primary team and/or the location where the individual works. It would be best for the manager or HR representative that the bereaved employee contacts about following the loss to ask if that person would like for the company to notify the individual's coworkers of what has happened.
- The employee might be a private person who would prefer that there not be an official company announcement.
- He or she might need personal contact with peers at this difficult time and so would rather contact coworkers individually.
- The employee may be relieved for the manager to offer to let coworkers know so he or she doesn't feel obliged to do so.
If the employee does want for a company representative to let other team members know, simply call a meeting (virtual or online) or send an email passing along the information in a manner consistent with the employee's wishes. In most cases, the employee will request that coworkers be told about what happened, general information about the circumstances, the employee's preferences about being contacted during this time, and what is known about arrangements at this point.
How Do You Announce a Death at Work?
Announcing the news that an employee has died or that a team member has lost a family member is never a pleasant task. However, it can be much better for coworkers to find out via an official company announcement than for rumors to circulate through the grapevine as people start to find out from social media or personal contacts. Sharing this type of information directly from management to the workforce can minimize speculation and ensure that the situation is handled appropriately and respectfully.