Nepotism May Not Be Illegal, but Unfairness Can Still Cost You

Nepotism happens.  Although it may not necessarily be illegal, it can still cost employers.  Fairness can be the antidote.

In a recent case between a current employee and his employer, the dispute appeared to be a fairly common consequence of hiring a new (outside) supervisor brought in to design and implement a company reorganization. Rifts are hard to avoid.  Here, however, it may not have been so unavoidable.  

Despite work that was very highly regarded for years, without issue, half of the employee’s self-designed responsibilities were summarily reassigned by a new supervisor to a new hire of his own who was relatively young (early 20’s) and his former co-worker.  Let the issue-spotting begin.

Putting the technicalities of “nepotism” or “discrimination” aside, it’s possible to see the vulnerabilities for a complaint for differential treatment. The new hire’s generous assignment and attendant status, along with his sense of entitlement and peacocking in the office without impunity were fodder for a filing.  Add to this the new supervisor’s adverse behavior toward the employee after the new hire was counselled by higher-ups, and the employee feels retaliation, as well.  He ultimately filed a formal complaint.

The issue of legality quickly fell away in the mediation of this case. Consistent with his pre-filing stance, the employee referred to the words “fair” and “fairness” as all he was (ever) seeking. There was no discussion of monetary compensation.  No request for retribution.  He took complete responsibility for and asked for no help with managing his relationship with his new supervisor.  He simply wanted to be able to rely on “fairness” from his employer as the standard to which all would be held.

The moral of the story is that unfairness very often involves a drain of resources by one means or another, so wisely remember fairness in defining employment standards, and police accordingly.

For more to consider on the impact of nepotism, cronyism and favoritism, read:

About Maria Hanna Joseph

Maria Hanna Joseph is Principal of Joseph Mediation. Her 25 years of experience in employment law, include 16+ of work and mediating for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination which through which she has gained valuable insight into the MCAD, its practices and decision making. This, as well as her experience in plaintiff and defense litigation, with private and public sector clients, international and local business concerns, and in issues from harassment and discrimination, to noncompetition agreements, business operation, transgender workplace matters, retaliation and many others, lend her valuable perspective for understanding and mediating an array of legal and personal issues. In terms of volume, Maria has served more than 2,000 cases. Maria's practice has been honed with study of mediation at Harvard Law School's Program of Instruction for Lawyers, negotiation at Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation, and in the disciplines of Transformative Mediation and Family/Domestic Mediation, which are significant assets in managing the personal nature of employment disputes, and conflict in general. Attorneys and parties know Maria as candid, pragmatic and persevering in her commitment to help them achieve meaningful settlements while keeping sight of their most important interests. The insight and creativity afforded by her experience and training are realized in the resolutions that manifest. These qualities, along with her demeanor and the trust she engenders, have earned Maria a reputation for being able to manage highly tense and fraught situations and individuals, and settle a wide variety of disputes and tough cases.
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