Death of a Faculty or Staff Member

candles in the dark

The death of a staff or faculty member has a profound impact on family, friends, and the work and learning environment. Ensuring that family, students, colleagues and co-workers are assisted with kindness and compassion is our priority. Human Resources, Health, Safety and Environment (HRHSE) will work with the department/faculty to offer support through the grieving process.

Grieving + Support Services

Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. There are, however, typical stages that people experience as they move through the grieving process. 

  • Shock and denial. Feelings of shock, disbelief, numbness or detachment are common. The bereaved may appear to be coping well because they have not fully accepted the loss.
  • Separation. The reality of the separation begins to sink in. This period involves intense emotions that include anger, guilt, fear, sadness, yearning and sometimes even relief.
  • Depression. The intense pain associated with the separation stage begins to subside, leaving in its place an ongoing ache and feeling of sadness and emptiness.
  • Acceptance. People entering this phase are gradually coming to an acceptance of their loss, moving forward and letting go, establishing new routines and directions.

Caring for Yourself
Coping with the death of a loved one or someone close to us is one of the most difficult challenges of our lives. While it is true that we will all face numerous losses throughout our lives, when the loss is someone close to us, someone we care about, the loss triggers a grieving process that may impact our way of living, both at home and at work/study.

Grief and the grieving process is very personal and unique to each of us. The way grief impacts each of us will depend on the loss we've suffered, our religious beliefs, the relationship we had, our resiliency and our own mental and physical health. Grieving does not have a particular duration. Mourning a loss can take weeks, months, or even years. While grieving is a process, talking to someone about your feelings can help you work through the process and at your own pace. The university's Employee and Family Assistance Program is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 780-428-7587 and can be accessed by all staff, faculty and eligible dependents.

Supporting someone who is grieving
Information adapted from the University of Exeter's Bereavement and Grief Support Booklet

It can be difficult to know what to do or say when faced with someone who is grieving. We may shy away from connecting with those in our lives experiencing loss, at a time where they need support the most. Here are some suggestions to support you in this sometimes very difficult position.

  1. Acknowledge the situation and express your concern. For example you could say “I heard that your friend passed away, I’m sorry to hear about your loss. By acknowledging the death head on, you indicate that you are willing to really hear what the grieving person is feeling. 
  2. Understand and trust the process. Remember that grieving is a natural and healing process that everyone will need to move through at their own pace.
  3. Be there. Silence can speak volumes; sometimes simply sitting with them can be exactly what they need. Your caring presence and support can be enough.
  4. Ask if they would like to talk -- perhaps about the person they’ve lost, by sharing anecdotes or photos, or perhaps about something else entirely. 
  5. Listen calmly, patiently, empathically, and without searching for solutions.
  6. Know and accept your own limits – It’s ok to acknowledge that you may not know what to say. You may need to seek support for yourself. 
  7. Be yourself. Be genuine and authentic in your support.

While you may have the best of intentions, try to avoid wanting to speed up the process, wanting to do too much, or offering solutions as if grief is a problem to be solved. 

Support Services
Employee and Family Assistance Program 
Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 

Alberta Health Services Grief Support Program 

The Grief and Trauma Healing Centre

Support from the University

The following information complements the UAPPOL Death of a Staff Member - University Response Procedure . It expands on the responsibilities of HRHSE and outlines support that faculties and departments can expect to receive. 

HRHSE will:

  • Liaise with the faculty/department to coordinate appropriate resources and support through the Employee and Family Assistance Program provider via the EFAP Administrator.
  • Assist you with notifying colleagues of the faculty or staff member’s passing.
  • Connect you with HRHSE resources as necessary through your HR Partner. Each situation is unique and likely the result of various circumstances. Care and sensitivity must be taken in how the information is presented. When the message is communicated, it is critical that information on how individuals can access support services is included. If your faculty or department would like assistance on how to deliver this difficult message, please contact your HR Partner who will work to assist you. 
  • Ensure that the passing is noted in PeopleSoft HCM and that outstanding employment income is processed.
  • Contact the beneficiary/executor to process and finalize benefits and pensions and coordinate through the respective carriers for claims processing and benefits coverage via Shared Services.
  • Offer assistance with work and duty redistribution. If the death was sudden, it may result in reassignment of temporary duties and may involve considerations such as responsibility pay. Your HR Partner will be able to work with you on these details. For longer term options, the job design and evaluation team would be able to offer some recommendations.
  • Conduct periodic check-ins in the coming months to ensure appropriate services are provided as necessary.

To initiate any of the above processes, please see the "who to contact" section below.

Lowering the banner

The University of Alberta has a tradition of lowering its banner to half-mast position as a sign of mourning at the death of a university community member. Process and request form

Contact Information Services and Technology (IST) for questions about how to gain access to the individual's email to set an auto response and phone for an alternate contact message. Their client service team will be able to provide the Director, Department Chair or Dean with information on this.

The department Chair, Dean or Director should seek guidance from Financial Services to ensure the necessary arrangements are made with respect to changing/updating signing authority.

Leaders Supporting Grief in the Workplace

Bereavement is an issue that many people many find uncomfortable. Ensure faculty and staff are aware of the support offered through the university's Employee and Family Assistance Program. However, some individuals may find talking about their feelings with others within their department/faculty offers closure and assists in finding a way to come to terms with the passing of their colleague or coworker.

We recognize that you as a leader have a unique role to play in communicating and managing colleagues and co-workers following a death. For guidance around having sensitive or difficult conversations, accessing the Workplace Advice Line  through the Employee and Family Assistance Program may be beneficial. The Workplace Advice Line is designed for managers and supervisors dealing with difficult workplace situations, such as notifying colleagues of a death or supporting a grieving co-worker.

The following resources provide information to support grieving co-worker(s):

To notify clients and customers of the passing of a colleague, the best approach is an automatic email response providing an alternate contact. Choose a contact who is comfortable delivering the difficult news to customers when appropriate. Some departments may wish to have an announcement displayed publicly; however, it is essential communication with the community be done in consultation with the family as per the Death of a Staff Member - University Response Procedure .
Who to Contact

If you are informed of the death of an employee, please notify HRHSE when you're able to by contacting Sarah Flower at 780-492-2249 or Once notified, HRHSE will notify others as required (i.e., Faculty and Staff Relations, EFAP Administrator, HR Partner, Shared Services) as appropriate.