Dealing with the death of an employee

Death of an Aalto University employee

1 Introduction

This guide is designed to help the Aalto University staff in preparing for and dealing with death at the workplace. Death is an exceptional situation, which we cannot predict or fully prepare for. You may use this guide as a resource when you need assistance in communicating and dealing with death at the workplace.

When you learn of a death, do not panic. Trust your common sense and reason. Remember to express sympathy and be discrete when addressing the immediate family. 

For a list of contact persons in different matters and their contact details, see the end of this guideline.

2 Dealing with death in the workplace

2.1 Employee dies during the workday

  • In case of accident or emergency, make sure that others are safe and that appropriate measures have been taken to handle the situation.
  • Direct the employees who witnessed the incident to a suitable common room.
  • Contact the employee’s supervisor and HR manager.
  • You can request the university chaplain to attend.
  • State what happened, to whom and if possible, why. Keep to the facts, do not speculate or interpret, and remember privacy and data protection.
  • Ask what the employees have seen or heard.
  • Ask about the employees’ wishes at the moment.
  • Find out about the need for immediate support and the place to go for it (e.g. Aalto chaplain, occupational health service).
  • Encourage the group members to support each other.
  • Agree on a meeting time for further debriefing among the group.
  • Any questions from the media are to be directed to the Aalto communications unit.

2.2 When notified of an unexpected death of an employee:

  • Express sympathy to the notifier if s/he is affected by the event.
  • Ask what happened and verify the information. Write down the key points.
  • Ask the notifier about the help or support he or she has already been given.
  • Ask about the type of help s/he wishes to get from the employer or supervisor and who s/he would like to act as the contact person.
  • Check the name and contact details of the notifier once more. Also find out if the notifier wishes to be contacted or if s/he wants to contact the university if needed.
  • Inform the notifier of the Aalto University practices in these types of cases.
  • Respect the wishes of the immediate family.
  • It is essential that the death of an employee is communicated in a uniform and open manner, particularly to the employees affected by it.
  • Flags may be flown at half-staff for mourning either on the date of death, or on the date of receiving notification of the death. In addition, flying flags at half-staff in the vicinity of the office of the deceased on the day of the funeral is also possible. Contact the school janitor:s/he will notify the facility management of the day of mourning.
  • Any questions from the media are to be directed to the Aalto communications unit.

3 Communicating the death of an employee

Dealing with the death of an employee is primarily the responsibility of the supervisor of the deceased. The person first notified of the death contacts the supervisor of the deceased. The matter must be communicated in accordance with the wishes of the immediate family. If the immediate family request that the number of people notified of the event be kept to a minimum, it is worth pointing out that news has a tendency to spread one way or another.

Depending on the situation and the wishes of the immediate family, the matter may be communicated to e.g.

  • Staff: unit/school/university. The supervisor may, for instance, call the staff of the team/unit to a shared meeting/session for discussing the event and for agreeing on communicating and dealing with the event in the workplace community.
  • Students
  • Possible customers/partners/other stakeholders

The death must also be communicated within Aalto also to

  • Communication:[email protected]
  • IT: [email protected]
  • Payroll: once the information on the death has been confirmed, payroll, preferably the payroll contact person of the unit, must be informed without delay, by phone or e-mail (the unit HR staff have the relevant contact details). Salary is paid until the date of death.
  • Campus University chaplain

The Aalto communications unit has established procedures for communicating incidents that interest the media. Collaboration with the Aalto communications unit is particularly important in cases involving an accident, act of violence or other emergency or when the deceased was a public figure.

Sufficient communication should be ensured before setting flags at half-staff, setting out a memorial table or taking any other visible action related to the death.

When the deceased is a foreign citizen, the incident is also communicated to the person in charge of the international affairs of the school.  In such cases, it should be ensured that only people with sufficient language skills communicate with the immediate family and that the latter get help in their mother tongue when possible.

Aalto University does not put a death notice in the paper. If considered appropriate, obituary may be sent when agreed with the immediate family.

4 Remembering the immediate family

It is important to respect the wishes of the immediate family. The immediate family may be remembered with flowers or in some other appropriate manner. The responsibility for such arrangements rests primarily with the supervisor of the deceased. The supervisor or his/her delegate arranges Aalto University‘s potential attendance at the funeral and other practical matters (condolence message, flowers).

The deceased member of the Aalto University staff may be commemorated in an event organised for the team/unit/school. The commemoration may be led by a university chaplain, a representative of another religious community, or a member of staff. It is important to respect the conviction of the deceased. If contacts to other religious groups are needed, the university chaplain may be consulted and his/her networks used.

The immediate family may wish to visit the university/unit, either for the commemoration or at another time.


  • The event should be held within a week of receiving notification of the death.
  • Attending the commemoration is voluntary.
  • Attendees may either speak at the event or remain quiet; it is important to let everyone deal in their own way.
  • The commemoration is confidential but not secret; any reactions at it, such as crying, not speaking or opinions expressed should not be expressed to others after the event.
  • The leader of the commemoration reports the incident briefly.
  • The leader goes though the procedure and practices to be followed at the event.
  • A personal memorial candle may be lit on the memorial table.
  • Someone may give a speech (supervisor, chaplain, colleague or student)
  • Reading a poem, thought, extract from the Bible or sacred texts of another religion is possible. Praying is also possible if appropriate for the conviction of the deceased.
  • Having a (guided) moment of silence (1-3 min.) is possible.
  • The attendees may remember the deceased, talk about their feelings, collect a memorial book etc.
  • The attendees may remember the immediate family by, e.g. sending them a joint condolence message.
  • The attendees’ needs for further support measures may be looked into and contact details distributed as necessary.
  • The leader will explain the measures to be taken in the matter after the event.

4.1 Memorial table and related equipment: grief box

The memorial table may be set in a suitable space: the table may be available to the staff for a longer time or only during the commemoration. The table may have a white cloth, photo of the deceased and basic details (name, date of birth, date of death), a candle and flowers. This equipment is found at each school in a grief box (details by school below).

The memorial table may include for instance, a memorial book with brief messages of sympathy to the immediate family, or a condolence message.  The memorial book or condolence message are sent to the immediate family after an agreed-upon time.

There is a grief box maintained by the university chaplains at each school:

  • Aalto ARTS: Väre, reception on first floor
  • Aalto BIZ: Information desk of the Main building
  • Aalto CHEM: Department of Chemistry (Kemistintie 1) room D309 (Jutta Heino)
  • Aalto ELEC: Maarintie 6, Dean’s office
  • Aalto ENG: Otakaari 4, room 408 (Suvi Hormio)
  • Aalto SCI: Otakaari 1, room H216 (room of facility management staff)
  • U: Dipoli, reception on first floor

5 Practicalities

For further instructions and procedures in case on employee death on, for instance, processing the e-mails and files of the deceased or returning items belonging to the employer, see here. 

The contact person in this matter is the Chief Information Security Officer Riitta Gröhn [email protected]

Processing the e-mails and files should be done with due consideration also for the immediate family: since the deceased may have saved also personal information on the computer, and the immediate family may be aware of it, processing such files must be agreed upon with the immediate family. The university representatives should also discuss any other practical arrangements at the termination of the relationship with the immediate family, such as returning personal items stored at the workplace, closing the IT account and mobile subscription etc.

Contact details:

HR services

In crises, help and support is also available at the occupational health service, where the primary contact person is the occupational health nurse of the school. Appointments or call requests are made by calling the Terveystalo booking number, tel. 030 6000. For contact details specific to schools go to Inside page Occupational health care

If you have any questions related to death of an employee, you can also turn to the Aalto University chaplains. The Aalto chaplains are available for confidential discussions and may, when necessary, help for instance in organising commemorations.

This service is provided by:

HR Services

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