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Nepotism: Mixing Family and Work

What is nepotism?

Nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.

What is the law and how can someone sue for nepotism in the workplace?

In California, nepotism is not per se illegal. However, nepotism in the workplace has the possibility of triggering a Title VII claim based on race and national origin discrimination. The reasoning behind this is because families tend to share race and national origin.  For example, in Thomas v. Washington County School Board (1990) 915 F.2d 922 (4th Cir. 1990), the Court found that the school district’s practice of “word-of-mouth” hiring; evidence of 46 cases of nepotism in 7 years; and the practice of posting vacancies in schools without public notice was sufficient for the court to grant a ban against the hiring practices of the school district. Depending on the size and demographics of an employer’s workforce, nepotism may have a disparate impact on individuals of certain races or national origins.

Additionally, California employers who have nepotism policies must avoid discriminating against employees and applicants based on their marital status, which is a protected category under state law.  A policy that prohibits married coworkers from working together simply because they are married is unlawful.  However, an employer may “reasonably regulate” the working of spouses in the same department for lawful business reasons based on supervision, safety, security or morale.  For example, an employer may refuse to place one spouse under the direct supervision of the other spouse or place both spouses in the same department.  Furthermore, if coworkers marry, an employer must “make reasonable efforts to assign job duties so as to minimize problems of supervision, safety, security, or morale.”

How does nepotism hurt the workplace?

Nepotism can lead to many unwanted results, including, loss of talent, ineffective supervision (for example overlooking performance issues); giving preferred work assignments to less qualified employees; and dissatisfaction and low morale because of real or perceived favoritism in employment decisions. Employees may also have less incentive to perform their responsibilities diligently and competently if they feel that the path to promotion is weakened by nepotism.

What can an employer do to eliminate nepotism?

Many private employers choose to implement nepotism policies to prevent these issues from arising. An employer must follow and enforce the nepotism policy for it to be effective in reducing liability risks.  Depending on the size of the employer, employers often have policies that prohibit family members of employees from working for the employer entirely or allow family members to work together, but not in the same department.

Contact a Pleasanton employment attorney today

If you are an employer and need advice regarding nepotism or if you are an employee and believe you have been discriminated against due to nepotism, contact the employment lawyers at Garcia & Gurney, ALC at 925-468-0400 to schedule your initial consultation today. We serve clients throughout the Pleasanton, Alameda, and Contra Costa areas.

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The information contained in this article is provided by Garcia & Gurney, ALC (“G&G”) and is provided for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or an offer to perform services on any subject matter. Recipients of this article should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in this article without seeking appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the recipient’s state. G&G expressly disclaims all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken by the recipient based on any or all of the information or other contents in this article. This article not intended to constitute an advertisement for professional services or any other services. Nothing herein is intended to create an attorney-client relationship and shall not be construed as legal advice.

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