SUMMARY: An effective workplace response to a death by suicide or an attempted suicide includes addressing the impact on co-workers. Respect and sensitivity are key to ensuring an employee's successful return to work after a suicide attempt.

Responding to a suicide in the workplace

  • Follow existing crisis response procedures.
  • If the suicide occurs at work, ensure that nothing is touched at the scene of the suicide and immediately contact the police.
  • Provide prompt, accurate information to co-workers, refraining from discussing sensational details of the suicide or suicide attempt.
  • Defuse anxiety by framing the suicidal act as a way of coping with significant, unbearable problems and emotional pain.

Workplace support after a suicide

When a co-worker dies by or attempts suicide, there can be overwhelming feelings of guilt and grief, even by those who may not have been close to the employee. Employers should consider the impacts to the overall psychological health and safety of the workplace related to the suicide.

  • Give co-workers the option of attending any funeral or memorial service.
  • Watch for co-worker reactions and if appropriate, launch an overall response to support all co-workers who have been impacted.
  • Ensure that co-workers are managing their grief and feelings and provide help if they are not.
  • Understand that reaction to a suicide will vary significantly. Some employees who may not have even known the deceased may be overcome with emotion, while others who were close to the employee may appear to be unaffected.
  • Recognize that managers may also have feelings of guilt and grief related to the suicide death or attempt and should be supported.
  • Ensure there is appropriate support in place for staff members who have been impacted, e.g. Employee Assistance Programs, funeral homes or community mental health agencies.
  • Provide education. Being aware of the complexities of suicide can help co-workers accept there may not have been anything they could have done to prevent the suicide. See Preventing Suicide: A Resource at Work.
  • If possible, determine if anything in the workplace may have been a factor. Take steps to address those factors.
  • Involve interested employees in organizing a tribute to the deceased employee. This can help with healing.

Returning to work after a suicide attempt

Returning to work may be as difficult for managers and co-workers as it is for the individual, particularly if the suicide attempt took place at the workplace. An employee may be concerned about returning to work after a suicide attempt, fearing what their colleagues will think about them.

The re-integration of an employee after a suicidal crisis should be facilitated with respect and sensitivity. (Samra, 2007)

  • Consider using Developing a Workplace Plan to support the returning employee in developing a strategy to return to work successfully. This plan should also include a discussion about how to address co-worker reactions.
  • Where appropriate, see also Accommodation and Return to Work.

Additional resources

The following are links to resources that may be of interest to you. If you click on a link you may be entering a third party website not maintained or controlled in any way by us or our affiliated companies. For more information, see Legal and Copyright.

Preventing Suicide: A Resource at Work
Comprehensive guide that touches on prevention, intervention and response for suicide in the workplace. Information courtesy of World Health Organization.

Suicide Prevention: How to help someone who is suicidal
Comprehensive resource featuring suicide warning signs and tips on how to offer help and support. Information courtesy of Helpguide.org.

Suicide prevention… what can you do?
Workplace training workshops on suicide prevention, including ASIST, suicideTALK, safeTALK, WorkingTogether and suicideCare. Information courtesy of Living Works.