De mortuis nil nisi bonum.
The death of an employee is an upsetting and traumatic occurrence.
It is also very likely to be unexpected. Thus, it is preferable to have a basic
framework in mind for dealing with such an occurrence before it happens.
This post is intended to give you an overview of three of
the many important considerations resulting from a death occurring outside the
workplace. It is not intended to cover incidents in which a death or serious
accident or illness occurs at the
workplace, on the job, or is related to work. For example, it does not address the
requirement that an employer notify OSHA when an employee is killed on the job
(among other events requiring such notice).
First, consider the outstanding salary or wages owed to the
estate of the deceased, which may include paid time off and accrued but unused vacation
(subject to applicable state law and company policy). Before issuing any
further payment, make an inventory of all amounts and promptly consult with legal
and tax advisors regarding issues, including the appropriate payee and taxation
of any such payment. Texas employers may find the Texas Workforce Commission’s guidance informative.
Be on the watch for communications from an executor of the estate or other
personal representative of the deceased.
Second, with respect to return of the company’s electronic
devices and other property, follow the same procedures that you would upon an
employee’s resignation or termination. For example, suspend or terminate
employee’s building and network access. Your IT department may be able to
remotely secure electronic devices. Consider sending a company representative
to collect any outstanding devices in person. On top of the death of a colleague
and friend, you do not want to lose control of the company’s confidential or
Third, you will need to take stock of any benefits owed to
the estate or beneficiaries of the deceased. A good first step is to gather all
beneficiary designation forms (i.e., life insurance, retirement plans). There
may be some surprises such as a deceased employee who failed to designate a new
beneficiary after a contentious divorce. Plan administrators, and sometimes
lawyers, will be able to provide you with important information to enable you
to take the appropriate next steps. Note also that the death of an employee is
a qualifying event under COBRA.
other issues are likely to arise, notwithstanding decisions regarding
communications with family and staff, staffing, transition of work and customer
relations. Both the issues at hand, and the next steps, will be personal to
each business and situation. De mortuis
nil nisi bonum: Of the dead, speak good things.
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