It is news an employer never wants to deliver. But it happens. In fact, according to OSHA it’s happened 357 times already this year. We occasionally get these sad call or that an employee has passed away and what should be done with the final check. First things first. The language to use may vary but here is at least one suggestion that should be used by the employer representative. “I’m sorry, but your spouse (or partner, child, or other family member) had an accident at work and unfortunately passed away.” Here are 9 suggested steps to follow that I pulled off the internet:
- Call 911, ASAP. There is never a reason to wait to inform the authorities, period.
- Immediately thereafter, notify the employee’s emergency contact person, preferably in person. This news should not be delivered over the phone if at all possible. If you must deliver the news via a phone call, arrange for a company representative to meet the family, likely at the hospital.
- If the death is work-related, contact your nearest OSHA Area Office, or OSHA’s national 24-hour hotline at 1-800-321-OSHA. All fatalities must be reported to OSHA within 8 hours.
- Notify executives and HR, and other employees with a need to know what happened.
- Notify your remaining employees of the fact of the fatality, and let them know that details will follow.
- Follow your internal procedures for contact with the media. If you do not have any such internal procedures, or if you are not comfortable with anyone in your organization facing the media, engage a public relations firm, as soon as possible. You will need someone to say something. “No comment” is not a good statement under these circumstances; it will look like you’re hiding something.
- Show extreme sensitivity to the family of the deceased. Who do they want to be their contact person? Who will disseminate funeral arrangements and how? What are the family’s wishes regarding flowers, donations, calling, visitations, and other contact? How and when does the family want to handle necessary employment issues (medical benefits, life insurance, workers’
- Designate one internal contact person to disseminate information to employees, and for employees to ask any questions. Unless the family directs otherwise, instruct employees not to contact the family.
- Arrange for grief counseling or other mental-health services for those employees who witnessed the accident, or are otherwise impacted.
The second issue surrounds what to do with the final check. This is a legal issue, not a sympathetic issue. The final check has to be given to the heir of the estate and that is determined through a probate proceeding not by a relative who calls up and directs you to mail the check to them. It is recommended that you inform the person demanding the check that you can only send the check to whomever the court determines is the rightful person to receive it and once you receive the proper documents you will issue the check accordingly. This is a suggestion but you may deem otherwise especially if you have knowledge as to who the heir(s) may be. Just keep in mind if you are incorrect and the real heir is determined to be someone other than who you issued the check to, they may come after you to retrieve what was rightfully due to them.