How to Handle an Employee’s Death

April 26, 2016

 

As I am sure you have heard by this point, last week Prince, thought to be one of the greatest musicians of all times, died. As I discussed this tragedy with several people, a common theme seemed to emerge:

There seems to be a lot of famous people dying this year.

A Star Is Born, A Star Dies

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Prince
  • Merle Haggard
  • David Bowie
  • Antonin Scalia
  • Chyna
  • Alan Rickman

I could keep going, but the point is that death is abundant this year. (And we are only in April! At this rate, the “In Memory” reels on all the New Year’s specials will take up the whole show.)

(Think I am exaggerating, the BBC agrees, has some stats to argue the point, and offers some possible reasons this might be true.)

Death of a Salesman

All of this got me thinking.

When a celebrity dies, people come together as a collective to mourn him or her – even though they never actually met. But death does not only effect the stars, it comes eventually to us all. And a celebrity’s death does not alone cause a collective grief, most people’s passing causes pain and effects large groups of people.

This is especially true when the dead had a job.

When a worker dies, whether at work or away, their co-workers will mourn, their workload will become stagnant (if not properly managed), and they might still be owed some benefits. Just for starters.

I think to better illustrate my point, Justice Scalia is a good example. Think of all the issues that his passing caused the Supreme Court on top of the sadness it caused.

When a death comes to your workplace, you need to know how to handle it. On top of the emotional vulnerability felt by the rest of your employees, you have a lot of legal responsibilities that might need to be taken care of.

Make sure you know how to handle them the right way.

For starters, do the following:

  • Make sure you inform anyone that needs to be informed (think HR, clients that employee contacted regularly, etc.)
  • Create a plan to handle the employee’s workload until other, more permanent arrangements have been made in order to make sure nothing gets left undone. From a work standpoint, this is important because you want production to continue. However, from a legal standpoint, you may have considerations, such as a contract with a client that has an approaching deadline.
  • Consider offering some type of grief counseling to employees or provide information on your employee assistance program.
  • Consider attending the funeral, sending a company representative, sending a gift or card, and/or allowing employees to attend.

Outside of these concerns, there are a few specific considerations that we will talk about today in greater detail.

The Last Paycheck

One of the first things you might think of when considering the logistics after an employee dies is what you should do with their last paycheck.

Unless the employee died after the end of a pay period but before the next period begins, then there is a good chance they are going to be owed some money for the time they already worked.

This is an area that is largely controlled by state law. Before you ever get into a situation where you need to handle this, you should set up a plan and make sure your plan is in compliance with any law that applies to you.

Here are some considerations for you:

  • When does the payment have to be made?
  • To whom should you make the payment? (In the case of a death, the check will most likely need to be cut to the spouse of the deceased or to the estate beneficiary.)
  • How much will they be owed?
  • What about adding in accrued PTO or vacation time? This is another area that will depend on state law and/or what your employment agreement states, but if an employee earned any time off and never used it, then the chances are strong that it will need to be paid out.

Of course, these will all be answered on a case by case basis, but it is important to know what information you need to get in order to proceed and know how to get that information.

Uncashed Checks

Here is an interesting factor that could change everything for you:

Let’s say this particular employee didn’t have direct deposit and instead received paper checks. Now, let’s say they had gotten a check right before they died, but they never cashed it.

Now what?

Chances are, you will need to reissue the check – this time making it out to the beneficiary or personal representative (which is likely going to be defined by the state, so make sure you are sending it to the right person).

You might also consider having the representative sign something saying the check they received was for the employee’s last payment.

California’s Law

For an example of what a state might dictate in this type of situation, let’s look at California’s law on the subject.

California does not have an exact law defining terms for how to handle a final paycheck when an employee dies. However, they do have one for when an employee quits without notice.

However, the Society of Human Resource Management (better known as SHRM) states that in the absence of a specific law, the employer should follow the applicable law on paying employees who quit.

In California, the law states that an employee who quits without notice must be paid within 72 hours.

There are many other considerations to take when handling final payments (for example, I didn’t even get started talking about taxes…) However, that is a post for another time since there are a whole lot of other considerations you still need to be taking…

Benefits and Insurance

Outside of that final paycheck, there are a lot of things you need to take care of when an employee dies.

  • Life insurance payouts
  • Pension or other retirement plan, such as a 401(k)
  • Potentially (depending on how the employee died), workers’ compensation and/or accidental death and dismemberment insurance

It is important to be organized at all times. If an employee dies, chances are that the emotions will be running in overtime. Having files already together and easy to access will make the situation a lot easier for everyone involved, including you.

Once you have all your paperwork together, it is a good idea to sit down with the beneficiaries. This should be done after the funeral (since before the funeral they will be focused on other things) but as quickly as possible without being insensitive to the family’s grief.

This is a separate communication than the one you will do if you have to tell the family about the death (such as if it happened at work or a work event) or when you first communicate with them to offer your condolences (which you should do – and probably have a representative at the funeral as well if it is open).

It is not always possible or wise to do this, but when feasible, it might be a good way to make sure everything you need is taken care of.

Also make sure you end any health insurance benefits and appropriately pay out any money left in the employee’s HSA.

Follow the Normal Termination Routine

When everything else is said and done, you want to make sure all your termination procedures have been performed.

You want to make sure that the family or estate gets back all of the employees belongings. However, you also want to make arrangements to get back any of your property from the estate.

There are plenty of security and intellectual property considerations here – as well as just the general physical property considerations.

  • You want to make sure that the rest of your employees are safe by getting any security badges deactivated and returned.
  • You want to get back all of your intellectual property from files and laptops of the employee.
  • You want to make sure any physical property, such as a company car or a laptop, are returned.

Special Considerations for When an Employee Dies in the Workplace

It is always tragic when an employee dies, but when it happens at work or a work event, it can be extra tragic. When this is the situation, there are special considerations you may have to take into account.

Emergency Responses

When an employee dies at work, you should follow an emergency response plan in order to get medical professionals to the scene. Let them take care of the body. Also, you probably want to clear the area of any unnecessary employees.

Notifying the Right People

When the employee dies under your workplace, you might find yourself being the one having to notify the family. This is an awful position to be in, and should be handled correctly.

It is best to have a script to follow (but not read verbatim – you want to make sure you sound genuine since hopefully you are) so that you do not say something insensitive while winging it.

Hopefully you have a list of emergency contacts so that you know who to call and how to reach them.

Reporting Requirements

One of the most important things you need to be cognizant of if an employee dies at work is your reporting requirements.

With limited exceptions, you will have to report a death to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or its state equivalent. You have to report even if you are exempt from normal record keeping under OSHA.

Under the federal law, you have certain requirements you need to do to be compliant with the law. Under a state plan, these requirements will be at least as tough, but could be more stringent.

Under Federal law:

  • You have eight hours to make your report from when the death occurred or when you learned or should have learned about it.
  • You must make the report by calling OSHA’s hotline or calling or going to your local OSHA office.
  • You must give all the necessary information in your report.

Some Final Thoughts

Whether it is a Hollywood star, a star employee, or anyone else, death is always sad. When one of your employees dies, you need to make sure you handle it the correct way.

Ashley Shaw

By

Ashley Shaw is an experienced Legal Writer with years of experience. After receiving her JD, she worked for years in a corporate environment writing on business and employment law topics

Get Business Legal Updates

Please provide your full name.
Please provide a valid email address.
We respect your privacy, and we will never share your information. Unsubscribe at any time.

Related Publications

Are you up-to-date on the most recent Legally Sound | Smart Business by Pasha Law podcast episodes? If not, you’ve missed out on the Right Way to Fire an Employee and the Biggest Legal Blunders Made by Small Businesses. What else have you missed? Catch up today at www.legallysoundsmartbusiness.com.

July 8, 2021

We’ve got a new Legally Sound | Smart Business podcast in the works on a topic we get questions about all the time – the right way to fire an employee. It’s a skill every manager or business owner needs, but it can cause problems if not done properly. You definitely don’t want to miss…

January 15, 2021

Nasir and Matt discuss the recently firing of a popular Reddit employee that causedan uproar and questioned the status of Reddit’s unpaid volunteers.

July 15, 2015

In a small business, it’s like marital infidelity in a group of close friends. Ugh, we’re sick. Everyone feels slimed. Who knows who to talk to?  Somebody has been unforgivably stupid. Many employers are completely blindsided when they must finally confront the terrible evidence that an employee is stealing from the company. It’s not just the…

February 19, 2015

Nasir and Matt discuss the legalities behind the NBA banning Donald Sterling and answer the question, “One of my employees is very annoying. He does great work but I can tell he is not liked by most coworkers. I also know he will sue if I fire him. How can I handle this best?”

May 6, 2014
Legally Sound Smart Business cover art

Legally Sound Smart Business

A business podcast with a legal twist

Legally Sound Smart Business is a podcast by Pasha Law PC covering different topics in business advice and news with a legal twist with attorneys Nasir Pasha and Matt Staub.
Apple Podcast badge
Google Podcast badge
Spotify Podcast badge

Latest Episodes

December 1, 2021

In this episode of Legally Sound | Smart Business by Pasha Law PC, Nasir and Matt cover the Business of Healthcare. There is more to the healthcare industry than just doctors and nurses. Many Americans have health insurance to cover their yearly needs, but most Americans are not aware of what really goes on behind…

October 12, 2021

In our latest episode, Nasir and Matt are covering the legal issues on Social Media. The average person spends most of their day on social media, whether they are scrolling for hours or publishing their own content. However, just because you publish your own content on Instagram does not equate to you owning that image….

September 28, 2021

What is a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and when do I need one? In this episode, Nasir and Matt shares why you need to use Non-Disclosure Agreements, basic facts about NDA’s, and discuss about the infamous Jenner-Woods story. Having the right Non-Disclosure Agreement in place not only protects you and your business, but it also makes the…

July 14, 2021

Through a five-round championship bout, Matt travels to Texas from California to determine which state is better for business. Will it be a knockout with a clear winner or will it go to the scorecards?

June 16, 2021

Covered in this episode of Legally Sound Smart Business are some typical business mistakes blunders small businesses often make and how to avoid them. Blunder #1: Copying and pasting agreements It may sound like a good idea at the time, but this blunder comes with hidden pitfalls. Having an attorney draft terms that are specific…

February 4, 2021

How you terminate an employee can make the difference between a graceful transition to avoidable negative outcomes like a dramatic exit or even a lawsuit. We gathered a panel of experts and asked them – is there a “right way” to fire an employee? We would like to thank our guests for this episode: Amr…

December 2, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned nearly every aspect of life on its head, and that certainly holds true for the business world. In this episode, Matt and Nasir explain how the early days of the pandemic felt like the Wild West and how the shifting legal playing field left a lot open to interpretation and…

November 16, 2020

After plenty of ups and downs, our buyer has finally closed on the purchase of their business. While we’re marking this down in the ‘wins’ column, it never hurts to review the game tape. In this final episode, our hosts, Matt Staub and Nasir Pasha, return to the deal almost a year later to reflect…

September 15, 2020

The ink is drying on the signature line and things are looking great for our buyer. After so much hard work, the finish line is in sight and the cheering within ear shot.   Though the landlord is still serving friction, things seem safe to move forward and for now, our buyer will be keeping…

July 31, 2020

Though things are coming along well, the journey would not be interesting if it was purely smooth sailing. After our buyer opens escrow, they are forced to push the closing date back when suddenly a letter from an attorney was received claiming the business, we are buying has a trade mark on the name!  Now…

June 12, 2020

With frustration at an all-time high and professionalism at an all-time low, our friend the Buyer has “had it” with the Seller and quite frankly their lack of knowledge. At present our Buyer is rightfully concerned that the latest misstep from our loose-lipped Seller will threaten not only the entire operation of the businesses but…

May 11, 2020

As we go deeper into the buying process, we start to uncover more challenges from our seller and encounter some of the wrenches they are tossing our way. When we last left off in episode three our team was knee deep in due diligence for our buyer, had already penned and signed the Letter of…

April 4, 2020

One word–interloper! When a new mysterious broker enters the transaction and starts to kick up dust, Nasir and Matt take the reins. The seller signed off on the letter of intent (see episode 2), yet this “business broker” serves only friction and challenges by refusing to send financials, whilst demanding more of a firm commitment…

April 4, 2020

Just as most stories and deals start out, everyone is optimistic, idealistic and full of hope for clear skies. It’s a perfect outlook with a perfect setup for the ups and downs yet to come. Peek further behind the curtain and into the first steps of buying a business: the letter of intent. After the…

April 4, 2020

When a savvy buyer hears opportunity knocking to purchase a prime positioned business, she decides not to go it alone and taps in the professionals to help navigate what could potentially be a fruitful acquisition. “Behind the Buy” is a truly rare and exclusive peak into the actual process, dangers, pitfalls and achievements, that can…

August 7, 2019

GrubHub is subject to two “matters of controversy” that have likely become common knowledge to business owners: “fake” orders and unfriendly microsites.

May 28, 2019

In this podcast episode, Matt and Nasir breakdown the legal issues of the subscription industry’s business on the internet. Resources A good 50-state survey for data breach notifications as of July 2018. California Auto-Renewal Law (July 2018) Privacy Policies Law by State Why Users of Ashley Madison May Not Sue for Data Breach [e210] Ultimate…

March 12, 2019

In recording this episode’s topic on the business buying process, Matt’s metaphor, in comparing the process to getting married probably went too far, but they do resemble one another. Listen to the episode for legal advice on buying a business.

December 3, 2018

Nasir and Matt return to discuss the different options available to companies looking to raise funds through general solicitation and crowdfunding. They discuss the rules associated with the various offerings under SEC regulations and state laws, as well as more informal arrangements. The two also discuss the intriguing story about a couple who raised over…

July 24, 2018

Flight Sim Labs, a software add-on creator for flight simulators, stepped into a PR disaster and possibly some substantial legal issues when it allegedly included a Trojan horse of sorts as malware to combat pirating of its $100 Airbus A320 software. The hidden test.exe file triggered anti-virus software for good reason as it was actually…

April 17, 2018

Attorneys Matt Staub and Nasir Pasha examine Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearings about the state of Facebook. The two also discuss Cambridge Analytica and the series of events that led to the congressional hearings, the former and current versions of Facebook’s Terms of Service, and how businesses should be handling data privacy. Full Podcast Transcript NASIR:…

March 10, 2018

The Trump presidency has led to a major increase in ICE immigration enforcement. It’s critical for business owners to both comply with and know their rights when it comes to an ICE audit or raid. Nasir, Matt, and Pasha Law attorney Karen McConville discuss how businesses can prepare for potential ICE action and how to…

February 5, 2018

New years always bring new laws. Effective January 1, 2018, California has made general contractors jointly liable for the unpaid wages, fringe benefits, and other benefit payments of a subcontractor. Nasir and Matt discuss who the new law applies to and how this affects all tiers in the general contractor-subcontractor relationship. Click here to learn…

January 2, 2018

With a seemingly endless amount of new mattress options becoming available, it is unsurprising that the market has become increasingly aggressive. As companies invest in more innovative solutions to get in front of customers, review sites, blogs and YouTube videos have moved to the forefront of how customers are deciding on their mattresses and how…

December 7, 2017

In recent months explosive amounts of high profile allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and varying acts of inappropriate behavior have transcended every sector of our professional world. With a deluge from Hollywood and politics, and the private workforce, accusations have inundated our feeds and mass media. This harassment watershed has not only been felt within…

November 16, 2017

If you are not familiar with the EB-5 program started in 1990 to give green cards to certain qualified investors in the United States, then you may not have been alone a few years ago. Currently, the EB-5 program has since exploded since its inception and now hits its quotas consistently each year. The program…

October 10, 2017

Government requests come in multiple forms. They can come in as requests for client information or even in the form of investigating your company or your employees. Requests for Client Information General Rule to Follow Without understanding the nuances of criminal and constitutional law and having to cite Supreme Court cases, any government requests for…

August 24, 2017

Nasir and Matt suit up to talk about everything pertaining to employee dress codes. They discuss the Federal laws that govern many rules for employers, as well as state specific nuances in California and other states. The two also emphasize the difficulty in identifyingreligious expression in dress and appearance, how gender-related dress codes have evolved…

June 28, 2017

Nasir and Matt discuss the life cycle of a negative online review. They talk about how businesses should properly respond, how to determine if the review is defamatory, the options available to seek removal of the review, how to identify anonymous reviewers, whether businesses can require clients to agree not to write negative reviews, and…

June 7, 2017

On this episode of the Ultimate Legal Breakdown, Nasir and Mattbreak down social media marketing withguests Tyler Sickmeyer and Kyle Weberof Fidelitas Development. They first discuss contests and promotionsand talk about where social media promotions can go wrong,when businesses are actually running an illegal lottery, and the importance of a soundterms and conditions. Next, they…

April 3, 2017

On this episode of the Ultimate Legal Breakdown, Nasir and Matt go in depth with the subscription box business. They discuss where subscription box companies have gone wrong(4:30), the importance of a specifically tailored terms and conditions(6:30), how to structure return policies (11:45), product liability concerns (14:45),the offensive and defensive side of intellectual property (19:00),…

February 1, 2017

Nasir and Matt discuss the suit against Apple that resultedfrom a car crashed caused by the use of FaceTime while driving. They also discuss howforeseeable use of apps can increase liability for companies. Full Podcast Transcript NASIR: Hi and welcome to Legally Sound Smart Business! I’m Nasir Pasha. MATT: And I’m Matt Staub. Two attorneys…

January 5, 2017

The guys kick in the new year by first discussing Cinnabon’s portrayal of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia soon after her death, as well as other gaffes involving Prince and David Bowie. They alsotalk about right of publicity claims companies could be held liable for based on using someone’s name or likeness for commercial gain.

December 22, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the recent incidentat a Victoria’s Secret store where the store manager kicked out all black women after one black woman was caught shoplifting. They then each present dueling steps businesses should take when employees are accused of harassment.

December 8, 2016

Nasir and Matt return to talk about the different types of clients that may have outstanding invoices and how businesses can convert unpaid bills to getting paid.

November 10, 2016

After a long break, Nasir and Matt are back to discuss a Milwaukee frozen custard stand that is now revising it’s English only policy for employees. The guys also discuss how similar policies could be grounds for discrimination and what employers can do to revise their policies.

October 6, 2016

The guys discuss the new California law that allows actors to request the removal of their date of birth and birthdays on their IMDB page and why they think the law won’t last. They also discuss how age discrimination claims arise for business owner.

September 29, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the racial discrimination claims surroundingAirbnb and how it’s handled the situation. They also discuss some practical tips for businesses experiencing similar issues.

September 8, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss whyAmazon seller accounts are getting suspended and banned without notice and how business owners can rectify this situation through a Corrective Action Plan.

August 25, 2016

Nasir and Matt talk about the accusations surroundingfashion giant Zararipping off the designs of independent artists like Tuesday Bassen and howsmaller companies can battle the industry giants.

August 18, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss Brave Software’s ad replacing technology that has caught the eye of almost every national newspaper and has a potential copyright infringement claim looming. They also welcome digital marketing expert Matt Michaelree to speak on the specifics of what Brave is attempting to do and whether it has the answers moving forward.

July 28, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson against Fox CEO Roger Ailes. They also talk aboutthe importance of sexual harassment training and properly handling such allegations in the office.

July 15, 2016

Nasir and Matt talk about the changes at Starbucks that have led to many disgruntled employees and customers.

June 23, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the criminal charges facing FedExinvolving the alleged transportation of illegal drugs. They also talk about how business owners should address working with customers that may be breaking the law.

June 15, 2016

The guys return after a long break to discuss why Yahoo is auctioning off over 3,000 patents and how this decision will affect the longevity of the company.

May 25, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the increase in the salary thresholdfor exempt employees and how employerscan try to avoid paying overtime as a result.

May 18, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the Baltimore law that makes it very difficult to operate food trucks in the city. They also discuss all the legal restrictions tohaving a food truck.

May 11, 2016

Matt listens to Nasir recap the developing battle in his hometown of Vandalia, Ohio over whether a Dunkin Donuts can move into a location in close proximity to a local favorite donut shop. They then discusswhether the issue is more legal or personal.

May 9, 2016

The guys kick off the week by discussing a Nevada employee who is claiming she was fired for not supporting the Scientology beliefs of her employer.

April 27, 2016

The guys discuss the massive floods in Houston,how employers responded, and why one meteorologist became a local hero. They also discuss the steps businesses should take in preparing for storms outside the workplace.

We represent businesses.
That’s all we do.

Oh, and we love it.

We love our work. We love reviewing that lease for your new location. We thrive on closing that acquisition that nearly fell through. We’re fulfilled when we structure a business to grow, raise capital, and be legally protected.

We focus on developing close relationships with our clients by being like business partners. A partner who provides essential, personalized, proactive legal support.

We do all of this without utilizing the traditional billable hour model. You pay for the value we bring, not the time spent on calls, emails, and meetings.

Our team is made up of attorneys and staff that share these values and we are retained by clients who want the same.

Pasha Law PC operates in the states of California, Illinois, New York, and Texas.

Meet Our Team

Fractional General Counsel Services

Pasha Law Select offers the expertise of a high-end general counsel legal team for every aspect of your business at a fixed monthly rate. Pasha Law Select is deliberately designed to allow our legal team to be proactive, to anticipate, and to be comprehensive in serving our clients. To be great lawyers, we need to know our clients. We can’t know our clients unless we represent a select number of clients in the long-term. This is Pasha Law Select.

Learn More