4 Tips for Managing Nepotism in the Workplace
Source: Fisher Phillips, March 13, 2023
Famous parents often smooth the road to stardom for their children — even when their kids have earned a place in Hollywood through talent and hard work. After all, getting an audition is easier for the aspiring actor whose mom knows the casting director. Indeed, most parents want their children to succeed. Even beyond teaching values like hard work and resiliency, parents will often give their children an academic and occupational boost when possible. And while last night’s Academy Awards audience was filled with recognizable legacies, it works the same way outside of Hollywood: lining up an interview is easier for the applicant whose parent knows — or is — the hiring manager. Of course, making career connections through networking is generally a positive thing — but feelings of resentment toward so-called “nepo babies” can be harmful to the people who are given the label as well as their co-workers who perceive them as “getting a break.” So, even if your workplace is a world away from the glamour of the silver screen, these issues could be percolating in your organization. What four steps can you take to help your business develop strong policies and combat resentment based on nepotism?
1. Set Parameters
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring friends and family, nepotism in the workplace is about more than simply hiring relatives: it generally occurs when an executive or manager shows favoritism toward family – and friends – over other candidates or employees.
Perhaps the marketing director’s daughter was selected to cover a coveted conference in Hawaii. Or maybe the CFO’s golf buddy was picked for a promotion over a more-qualified worker who doesn’t partake in the sport.
This seems unfair, but is it illegal? Probably not. While some states have broad conflict-of-interest laws that may apply to nepotism in certain situations — or specific laws that limit public officials from hiring relatives — such favoritism isn’t generally illegal in the private sector … at least not on its own (more on that below). But that doesn’t mean you should let nepotism run rampant in your organization.
Developing clear policies can help you set healthy boundaries, build trust, increase employee morale, and limit legal risks. The details of your policy will depend on many factors, such as your business size, industry, philosophy, and culture. After all, by its very definition, a small family-owned business will approach this differently than a large corporation.
But you should consider the following questions as you write your policy:
- Will you have a strict “no hiring relatives” policy, or will you limit the ban to workers in the same department or with reporting relationships and in lines of authority?
- Will hiring relatives be completely off-limits for specific roles or departments? For example, you may not want to hire relatives of any HR employee regardless of their supervisory responsibilities if everyone in the department has access to confidential employment information and assists managers with hiring, promotion, discipline, and termination decisions. But this will depend on your organization’s structure.
- How will you define the relationships that are limited by the policy? For example, will “relative” include parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, spouses, and siblings? Or will the coverage be broader to include more familial and non-familial relationships?
- Does your state prohibit employment discrimination based on marital status? While this may not necessarily impact your anti-nepotism rules, you’ll want to carefully craft the policy to ensure you don’t unintentionally run afoul of state law.
- Will you have a process for disclosing employment of relatives or certifying that new hires do not have any known relatives already employed by the organization?
- How will you notify employees and train managers on the policy to ensure it is consistently applied?
- What will be the consequences for failing to comply with the policy? Will you require a department transfer or supervisory change? Whatever you choose, you should apply the policy consistently. And you should consult your attorney before deciding to discipline or fire one or both employees for violating the policy.