Death of An Employee: What Next? What Does The Law Say?

In Tales of Beedle the Bard, arguably one of J. K. Rowling’s lesser known literally works, is the short yet powerful line, “Death comes for us all in the end”.

Differently put, death is a reality of life. Happens to the best and worst of us. A force of nature so powerful and final in its result, that even the most heroic men and women known to us, inevitably bow down to its will.

Employees can and do pass on during the term of an employment contract. Most employers find themselves at a loss on what to do next and as to whether there are any obligations outside notifying the deceased employee’s next of kin.

What of wages not yet paid? What of the deceased employee’s movable property within the employer’s possession? Can anyone simply show up and collect it? How can an employer be sure that the person he or she is dealing with is the proper person? What if the death happens in the employment premises? Should the employer call the police? Who should be notified first?

These are genuine concerns that any employer dealing with the death of an employee will have to grapple with.

It would be important to have a medical practitioner or such other duly qualified person to certify that a person is indeed dead unless there are mortal injuries and/or visible signs that make the unfortunate conclusion obvious. The employee should be rushed to nearest health facility and assumptions in such an emergency should be made in favour of life, not death.

If the demise is obvious and the circumstances are unclear and/or infer that the death may be a homicide (death caused by another person, directly or indirectly) or a suicide (death caused voluntarily by the deceased), then the police must be notified by making a report.

In such circumstances, contact with the deceased’s body and surrounding immediate environment should be limited to the greatest extent possible so as not to hamper necessary investigations which may ensue.

The police may require statements from material witnesses and full cooperation should be accorded bearing in mind constitutional rights against self incrimination. If unsure about the legal position, it is advisable to contact a legal practitioner.

Breaking the news of a sudden or any other form of death of an employee to the next of kin must be done with respect, clear-headedness and courtesy and preferably face to face and not by phone unless the circumstances dictate otherwise.

Statutory Notification of Death

The Employment Act places a statutory obligation on an employer to notify the relevant labour office of the death of an employee and such notification is to be made in a prescribed form set out in regulations passed under the Act.

Wages, remuneration and movable property

The law requires that all wages and other remuneration and property due to an employee as at the date of death to be handed over to the deceased employee’s legal representatives within 30 days of the legal representatives’ supplying proof of capacity as required by law. Evidence of such payment must be submitted to the relevant labour officer within  7 days of the payment being made.

Where there is no legal claim, uncertainty and/or dispute as to entitlement to a deceased employee’s wages and/or property

Where no legal claim is made and/or where an employer is in doubt as to the capacity of a legal representative, the law obligates the employer to deliver all such wages and/or property to the relevant labour office which shall hold said wages and/or property as trustee in accordance with the law.

Useful tips

  • If unsure of the documents presented in proof of legal capacity of a personal representative, consult a labour officer or a lawyer and exercise due diligence by referencing employment records including list and contacts of recognised next of kin, which by law, an employer is required to have.
  • Be sensitive to the feelings of the deceased’s survivors and handle all matters and your deceased employee’s affairs with respect and courtesy.
  • It is advisable for payment of wages and handover of  a deceased employee’s property, if circumstances so permit, to be made against a legal discharge which ought to be prepared in consultation with a legal practitioner and/or in the presence of a labour officer.

If unsure about whether the circumstances of death result in any civil liability, it is advisable to consult a legal practitioner before filling the statutory notification form or any insurance claim form

Disclaimer: Wanjiku Mohamed Advocates publishes this article for our clients, friends and other interested persons for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the firm or any of its advocates or clients. The article provides general information, which may or may not be correct, complete or current at the time of reading. The content is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice or opinions. No recipients of content from this article should act or refrain from acting on the basis of the contents of the article without seeking appropriate legal advice . Wanjiku Mohamed Advocates expressly disclaims all liability relating to actions taken or not taken based on any or all contents of the article.


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