Guidance for communicating a death in service

April 16, 2020

The below guidance will support communication activity associated with the death in service of a colleague. It includes steps for communication between the company and the individual’s family, communication of the death to colleagues and external third parties, and guidance on remembrance/ memorial activity.

Before you create a communications process, make sure you are working in partnership with your HR team as they should be leading on this process with communications supporting. The below is a guide and all decisions should be made in collaboration with the relevant departments.

Liaison with family / next of kin 

Initial contact following notification

Initial contact with the family is likely to be instigated either by them or by the colleague’s line manager on being informed of the news. As a guide, the first call should be:

an opportunity for the line manager to express condolences both personal and on behalf of the company
used to agree to onward communications about the colleague’s death including
details of the cause of death to be shared or not
the mechanism for communicating news with colleagues and third parties
Signposting of funeral arrangements if appropriate
used to agree to any other remembrance activity which may have proposed at this early stage, including condolence book, fundraising page etc
used to arrange the formal call about administrative steps which will follow
If these steps are not achievable in the first call, then a second call following a suitable lapse of time should take place.

Once the line manager has spoken to the family, they should notify HR immediately so they can instigate the relevant process/procedures.

Communication with colleagues 

The following steps should take place if agreed with the family (see above)

The deceased’s line manager should be informed and assume responsibility for informing team colleagues and any known friends within the business via telephone or virtually. Colleagues should be asked not to post anything on social media until adequate time has passed for family and close friends have been notified.
Once the line manager is confident that all close colleagues have been informed personally, then a note to the broader organisation needs to be arranged via an appropriate channel, e.g. an all user email, newsletter etc
The colleague communications should incorporate the circumstances of death whereby delicately clarifying if there were underlying health conditions and how recently they were in work
This communication should also include details of support available to colleagues such as the Employee Assistance Programme support line
This communication can also be used to highlight any remembrance activity which may be underway
A letter of condolence should be sent to the family, personally signed by the relevant senior member or Chief Executive.
NB: It’s important that you triple-check that the information shared about the deceased is accurate, including spelling of names.

Communication with third parties

Aligned with the timing and content of all colleague comms detailed above, a separate email should be sent to any third-party stakeholders or groups that the deceased colleague was significantly involved with.

Prepare a media statement or response if the circumstances of death or the eminence of the deceased may warrant it (active member of the community, external facing role etc)

Other considerations to include in HR/comms guidance

Personal belongings

Ask family members on what they would like to do with any personal belongings which the deceased may have left in work. But be considerate of timing when you’re asking this question, it’s not something that needs to be discussed immediately.

Image use

Leaders and teams should consider any other actions which may cause additional distress, i.e. does the deceased’s photos appear anywhere, adverts, comms around site etc

IT and HR systems

Make sure that the HR and IT systems are updated so letters are not posted to the deceased.

 Remembrance activity

The following options are ideas that could be instigated in the business after discussions with the family:

Condolence book / intranet page
Attendance at funerals
Service of remembrance 
Fundraising activity 
Lasting memorials 
International Workers Memorial Day Service – Workers Memorial Day is commemorated throughout the world and is officially recognised by the UK Government. Established by the trade union movement, it is primarily an opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives at work, or from work-related injury and diseases.
Death of a colleague’s partner or close relation

On notification of a colleague’s partner or close relation’s death, the following steps should be taken

The line manager should call the colleague to offer condolences and agree on comms/contact from the wider team. They should also provide the support available and answer any questions relating to bereavement leave
The line manager should call or email the wider team with the news and notify them of the agreed guidance on contact with the impacted individual
The line manager should draft formal condolence from the company and sign it themselves or arrange for relevant director /senior leader to sign

Thank you to Anna Russell, Head of Stakeholder Management and Communications, Manchester Airports Group, for her support in creating this guide. 

The CIPR Public Sector group will be publishing detailed guidance which will be available next week. We will share the links as soon as this is available.

For more information on managing bereavement then the following links will help: