Employment of relatives – what’s typical?

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Q:  I referred my sister to an open position at my company.  I am a manager and all I hear is that we can’t recruit talent because of the unemployment rate.  My sister is smart and capable!  HR quickly replied when I sent her resume to them.  The message was that she could not work within my “domain” even though she would not be reporting directly to me.  They referred to the “employment of relatives” policy in our handbook, which I have not read in years.  Are these policies followed?  Why do companies have these policies?

A: Most companies have an internal policy, which might be titled an “employment of relatives” policy.  Many of the policies prohibit immediate relatives from working too closely together.  Some policies will discourage immediate relatives from working within the same department.  While other policies will prohibit an employee from being related to a supervisor, manager or a board member.  More and more of these policies are also excluding close personal friends or employees living in the same household.  Sometimes there are exceptions to these rules, like interns or seasonal employees.  The intent of the policy is to minimize favoritism or even the perception of favoritism.

In your situation, you could be placing a supervisor in an awkward situation.  What if your supervisor has to discipline your sister?  Or what if your supervisor thinks your sister is outstanding and he/she wants to promote her?  Will others assume it is because of the familial relationship?  Or what is your sister shares information with you that she shouldn’t? It becomes a messy challenge.

There are some employers which are less concerned about familial relationships.  We both probably have observed family businesses, where parents, siblings and others are involved in running the company.  In these organizations, familial relationships are likely less of a concern.

There are reasons why companies implement an “employment of relatives” policy.  Companies are hoping that employees will make decisions based on what is best for the company and sometimes familial relationships can interfere with the objectivity required to make such decisions.

Although your recruitment is a challenge for your company, I would honor your company’s policy and refrain from referring family members.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.