Nepotism And Favoritism In The Workplace

We’ve all heard the saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Sometimes it’s not just who you know, it’s who you are related to.  Many Louisiana businesses are family-run operations, and often several members of the family will work in various positions at the company.  This causes friction in many workplaces, as employees may resent the perceived better treatment given to members of the owner’s family. The owner, on the other hand, believes that it is his right to run his business as he sees fit. So who is right? In short, Louisiana has no law against nepotism in privately owned businesses. Nonetheless, there are good reasons why many companies choose to enforce anti-nepotism policies.

Louisiana Law Does Not Forbid Nepotism

As discussed in a previous blog post, there are a limited number of protected characteristics under Louisiana law: race, age, sex, national origin, age, and disability. Neither family relationships nor friendship are on that list. That means that an employer has the legal right to hire and promote family members, high school classmates, or hunting buddies. They may be paid more, or given better assignments.

This kind of favoritism may grate on other employees who have worked just as hard, but there is no legal remedy. As one court memorably stated, the law does not forbid “back-scratching, log-rolling, horse-trading, institutional politics, envy, nepotism, spite, or personal hostility.”  If you are in a workplace where nepotism is rampant, the best solution may be to look for another job.

Employers May Enforce Anti-Nepotism Policies

Even though nepotism is legally permitted, many employers choose to enact anti-nepotism policies in order to ensure workplace harmony. Such policies are perfectly legal, provided that they are fairly and evenly enforced.

There are a wide variety of anti-nepotism policies available. Some employers prefer a more limited policy stating that an employee may not directly supervise a family member. Other employers have broader policies requiring relatives to work in entirely different divisions or locations. Others may have strict rules stating that relatives of current employees are ineligible to be hired anywhere in the company. The choice of policy is largely up to the employer but, as with all employee handbook policies, it makes sense to consult with an experienced employment attorney rather than attempt to draft it yourself.

Nepotism Is Illegal In Government

The prior sections both assume that the employer is a privately owned company. The rules are different in the government. The Louisiana Code of Ethics forbids the heads of government agencies and entities from employing immediate family members anywhere within the agency or entity. (There are a few exceptions, particular for small rural parishes). Under this law, “immediate family” includes spouses children, siblings, parents, and in-laws, and the law applies even if the family member is not in the direct line of supervision. Needless to say, governmental employers should be very cautious on any questions of nepotism.

If you have any questions or concerns about nepotism or favoritism in the workplace, or would like help in drafting an effective anti-nepotism policy, call New Orleans employment lawyer Charles Stiegler at (504) 267-0777 or email me today.