Employee stock options when the employee dies

When the employee or colleague dies

Two examples: I recently received an accident report form from a company in which I was informed that an employee had a fatal accident on the way home. The superiors were completely irritated when I asked how they had dealt with it so far and how they intend to deal with it in the near future.

Yesterday the colleagues celebrated the company's summer party together. Today a colleague no longer shows up for work. Here, too, it was a traffic accident. The company's authorized signatory informed the colleagues about the sudden death of the employee by email. He asked the two colleagues who had shared the office with the deceased to collect the personal belongings so that there was room for a successor as quickly as possible. What actually happens if an employee suddenly dies? Then death becomes personal very quickly. Managers and colleagues are often the first point of contact, but they are often overwhelmed by the role of helping. It is possible that even the immediate colleague himself is burdened with the grief. When employees die, a company loses more than one worker. Machines can be written off, but humans cannot. As a manager in particular, you are faced with a number of questions:

  • How do I communicate the death to the employees?
  • How do I deal appropriately with the situation?
  • Should a company representative appear at the funeral or memorial service?
  • When can the deceased's position be advertised again?

Although an average of 850,000 people die in Germany every year - 140,000 of them of working age - the subject of dying, death and mourning is often taboo in our society. This tendency is also reflected in companies. The experience of death is a strong emotional experience and stress for every loved one. Experts speak of the greatest stress that can happen to a person. This stress can also be seen in the conversations between the HR department, the works council and the managers with the grieving person. Very often these executives feel speechless, insecure and helpless. Because as uncomfortable as it may be, the management floor in particular has to deal with the needs of the employee in such a situation and find a solution that is satisfactory for both sides. When a person grieves, 3 groups are involved in the professional environment: the colleagues, the direct supervisor and the company management.

Communicate the death to employees

It's best to tell them the bad news in person. You don't have to go from room to room, you can also call a short meeting. Expect that the employees cannot go back to day-to-day business immediately, but have to cope with this news first. Give them this time, because you cannot expect sensible work results anyway.

Handle the situation appropriately

1. The obituary: Many companies use standard advertisements here, especially if the deceased was already retired. That seems unkind, especially when several obituaries from the same employer appear in one issue of a newspaper. Take the time to personalize each ad, signaling that you've lost an important (former) colleague.

However, if a person is torn from the middle of (work) life, you can design this obituary notice among colleagues - this has a more personal effect and pays the deceased a final honor. Under no circumstances should you use the ad for advertising and, for example, place the company slogan there. There have been obituaries referring to company opening times or special sales. That is disrespectful.

A job reference, as shown below, is also absolutely inappropriate. Or do you want to read an evaluation of your work performance in the newspaper after your death? Best of all - as in the example - partly in the "certificate code". Some time ago I read the disrespectful sentence in the obituary notice for a reproductive medicine specialist: "He will live on in our works." The name of the deceased should also appear larger than the company name. It is also not very tactful to look for a successor for the deceased with a job advertisement in the same issue of the newspaper.

2. Personal condolences: It is good form for company representatives to express their condolences in person and attend the deceased's funeral. But watch out for information in the obituary such as "... it is requested to refrain from expressing condolences at the grave ..." and respect this wish of the relatives. Appropriate grave goods such as a wreath are a matter of course. However, if the family of the deceased expressly does not want this, the company should at least show its presence with an appropriate letter of condolence and a grave object. As a rule, you can recognize the family's wish by information on the obituary such as "The funeral will take place in the immediate family circle."


  • First of all, clarify who the condolence letter should be addressed to (address: Please no longer: "Mourning house ...", better: "Family ..." or "Wife ... and children").
  • E-mail, fax and SMS are absolutely taboo!
  • Do not use printed texts that only require you to sign.
  • For companies you should write 2 cards: one to the relatives and one to the company - memorial letters have no subject line!
  • Write on good quality white paper with a black pen, preferably handwritten (if you have legible handwriting). Please do not use colored company stationery, preferably with an advertising slogan.
  • Do not use paper with a black frame, as this is exclusively reserved for relatives.
  • All letters of condolence have a "personal character" and should be written that way. So write carefully and emotionally and avoid general phrases such as: "It'll be fine ... Now he's better, now he doesn't have to suffer anymore ..."
  • Show your sincere sympathy, but please don't exaggerate.
  • Name the deceased in the letter (first and / or last name).
  • Write a tribute to the deceased. Significant or shared experiences with the deceased, positive character traits of the deceased.
  • Avoid theatrics, formulate compassionately, but not heartbreakingly, do not use window envelopes, no franking, but postage stamps and pay attention to the motif of the postage stamp.
  • Offer specific help to loved ones. But only those that you can afford.
  • Send the condolence letter immediately.

3. Attending the funeral: Make it possible for your staff to attend the funeral even if a department may be understaffed at short notice. A funeral is an important ritual for saying goodbye to a deceased person - nobody should have to go without it. I have seen companies that completely or partially interrupted operations for the funeral of a colleague and even organized the bus transfer to the mourning hall.

If the death of the employee was caused by an accident at work, it must be a matter of course for the company to offer its support to the bereaved with the formalities and the funeral.

4th position: Do not place a job advertisement the day after the death of your colleague, but give yourself and your employees time. Nothing is more embarrassing than the job advertisement that appears on the same page as the obituary.

Let the colleagues decide when a successor should come into the house, because they know best whether they can shoulder the additional work initially. Clear out the deceased's desk together and bring home the family's private items. There is no hard and fast rule for how long a position that has become vacant due to the death of a colleague should remain vacant. It is more important how the new appointment is dealt with. Employees understand that management positions in particular cannot remain vacant forever.

Difficulties can arise when an external person takes over the position who has no feeling for the particular situation. It is just as difficult when an internal employee is given the position almost only because of the death of his predecessor and neither an external nor an internal employee was given the opportunity to work through the loss of the predecessor together with their colleagues. So a sure instinct is required when choosing a new position. In particular, the colleague who is filling the position should be made aware of the difficult situation and made aware of it.


Consultants, employees of HR departments and representatives of occupational health protection can play an important supportive role in dealing with grief. But the more essential support has to come from direct superiors, colleagues and, if available, union representatives or works councils. Because if the topic of grief is treated carelessly and lightly dismissed, this threatens to deter colleagues and employees and can make them feel that you are not able to support your team sympathetically. Or it can encourage them to just ignore the topic. However, we need a corporate culture that inspires and enables people to behave humanely. This not only serves to motivate, but also has an indirect effect on the efficiency of the employees.


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