How to Recognize and Report Nepotism in the Workplace

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If a person of authority at your workplace has employed a member of their own family or has actively advocated for their employment in some way, it is reasonable to feel aggrieved. The situation can have a lot of undesired effects on other employees and the workplace environment as a whole. For example, your employer may not be able to supervise their family member effectively because they overlook certain performance issues. Furthermore, the related employee may be less qualified than other members of the team, leading to a sense of low morale or workplace dissatisfaction when that person invariably receives favored assignments at the cost of more talented individuals.

These are just some of the dangers of nepotism. The practice is illegal within the public sector. In order to deal with nepotism effectively, it is important to know how to recognize it.

What Is Nepotism?

The word “nepotism” derives from the Latin word for “nephew.” It refers to the act of showing favoritism or exercising patronage on the basis of a family relationship. Since the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, nepotism has been banned in the civil service because it leads to conflicts that interfere with the values of meritocracy on which the civil service is built.

In practice, the rules against nepotism prevent public officials from exercising their influence for the purpose of advancing the careers of their relatives. This does not mean that family members cannot work together. Rather, it means that a person cannot employ or promote their relatives in a way that contravenes the merit system.

If you notice that a family member of someone in leadership or management is unqualified for their job, receives a higher salary, has been fast-tracked for promotions, or has received any other form of special treatment, this can be a strong indication that nepotism has taken place.

The Role of Advocacy

In order for a prohibited form of nepotism to occur, an authority figure must actively advocate for the employment or advancement of their relative. For example, if a high-ranking official mentioned to a human resources officer that their sibling is interested in a vacancy, this act alone would not necessarily qualify as nepotism. If that official elected to recuse themself from any involvement in the hiring process, the absence of nepotism would be even more clear because the official did not engage in the act of advocacy.

Who Counts as a Relative/Family Member?

In the District of Columbia, a public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for any relative with regard to a position in an agency that the official serves in or exercises jurisdiction over. “Relative” includes:

  • Parents and step-parents
  • Children and step-children
  • Siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings
  • Uncles and aunts
  • First cousins
  • Nephews and nieces
  • Spouses
  • In-laws

There are exceptions allowed for temporary employment in emergency situations.

In the state of Georgia, the restriction on nepotism applies to family members being appointed to a public position that pays $10,000 or more. A “family member” refers to a spouse or a dependent child.

How Can I Report Nepotism?

If you have recognized that nepotism is taking place in your workplace, you should report to HR in the first instance. You should aim to do so with the utmost professionalism and care, rather than allowing your feelings to get the better of you. Gather evidence of instances of favoritism and present them with clarity.

Contact an Employee Rights Attorney

Unfortunately, some people who report nepotism in their workplace face backlash. For this reason, it is important that you have an experienced employee rights attorney on your side. The Vaughn Law Firm is ready to fight for you and protect your best interests. Contact us today at 877-615-9495 for a consultation.