Managing employee bereavement

Steps to take when managing bereavement


Employers can prepare for managing bereavement in the workplace by having a bereavement policy in place. It is good practice to involve trade unions or staff representatives in developing a bereavement policy.

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA), in partnership with Cruse Bereavement Care, has developed a good practice guide on managing bereavement in the workplace.

There is a draft bereavement policy within the guide that you can use as a checklist when developing your own policy.

Dealing with the immediate aftermath of bereavement

You should recognise that the bereaved person may be feeling numb or distressed during your initial conversation, and may not be able to take in or provide much information.

A follow-up call or email may be appropriate. A calm, empathetic approach in all communications from managers will ensure employees feel supported, and minimise their anxiety about returning to work.

In the early days of an employee's bereavement, it may be appropriate to:

  1. Offer your condolences.
  2. Ensure they know that they are not expected to work on the day the death has taken place. They need to hear that work comes second and that they must take whatever time out is needed.
  3. Begin a dialogue with them, asking how they would like to stay in contact eg if phone or email contact is preferred and if there are particular times to avoid. Be aware that in the first few days, they may not wish to speak to anyone as they may be in shock - this should be respected and is good practice. Be careful not to pressurise them into making decisions at this point.
  4. Ask how much information they wish their co-workers to have about the death and remember that this information is private under data protection legislation and to stick strictly to the facts. Ask if they wish to be contacted by colleagues.
  5. Consider what action needs to be taken if the death is in the media; particularly if the press contact the workplace or approach co-workers for interview.
  6. Ask if the employee wishes to be contacted by their colleagues - some people might appreciate the moral support from their co-workers while others may prefer to be left in privacy.
  7. Be conscious of diversity within the workforce and the impact this may have on, for example, days taken to allow the employee to fulfil religious or cultural expectations such as mourning rituals.
  8. Be open to revising and reviewing the situation with the employee and keep the dialogue open.