The term “nepotism” describes the act of showing favoritism toward family members, particularly through the hiring of a family member for a particular job. An example of nepotism is in the acts of the 45th to the U.S. in appointing his children to be members of his presidential cabinet.

While this was a common practice prior to President John F. Kennedy’s presidency, many people felt that the president appointed his children to give them jobs, not because they were particularly skilled in the roles he designated for them. To explore this concept, consider the following nepotism definition.

Definition of Nepotism


  1. The act of showing favoritism to family members, especially by hiring them for a job or promoting them to a political office.


1655-1665       Italian  (nepotismo)

Nepotism Policy

A nepotism policy, or “anti-nepotism policy” as it is more commonly known, is a policy put in place by a company or agency to prevent employees from engaging in nepotism. Many companies do not want their employees to work with family members because it creates a conflict of interest as well as issues of loyalty within the company.

Some companies allow employees to work together but restrict their interactions with each other. For instance, employees are not to directly supervise their own relatives. If, however, a project comes up where the family members must work together, then a provision within the policy often requires the supervisor to come up with a management plan to effectively navigate the situation.

Nepotism in the Workplace

A nepotism policy can have negative effects on employee morale and productivity. For one thing, if employees feel like their workplace promotes the idea of inequality, they will be less motivated to work. This can manifest in one of two ways:

  • They can actively set out to sabotage their peers; or
  • They can passively take a defeatist attitude and stop giving their job their all.

A work environment’s culture starts at the top, and if the boss is engaging in nepotism in the workplace, then that negative energy flows down to the workers. This makes for a thoroughly toxic work environment. For example, nepotism in the workplace can lead to employees turning in half-hearted work or just simply looking for jobs elsewhere. They may also spread negative word-of-mouth about the company, which reduces the number of potential employees the company can hire.

Lack of Diversity

Nepotism in the workplace can also create a significant lack of diversity within the workplace. Diversity is important because, when companies hire employees with varying skillsets, they can all learn from one another. This improves morale and team-building exercises.

However, if the boss is only hiring employees because they are friends or relatives, and they are not as skilled as someone else, then he is only bringing the company down by creating a lack of diversity. This is essentially watering down his team’s skillset. A lack of diversity causes ideas, and by proxy the company, to grow stagnant. It is also more difficult for a company to claim it practices diversity and discourages discrimination if all they do is hire from within.

Nepotism Laws

There are no “nepotism laws” per se. Neither federal nor state authorities have any jurisdiction over how private companies run their businesses. The only time nepotism actually becomes a crime is if it leads to outright discrimination.

In several states, however, public officials cannot employ or promote a relative to a position wherein he would oversee that individual. A “relative,” as defined by the law can mean immediate family members, such as parents, children and spouses, in-laws, aunts, uncles, and even step relatives. To hire a “relative” is to be in violation of that company’s ethics, and as such, each company punishes the practice on its own discretion.

Many companies have conflict-of-interest “nepotism laws,” or policies that discourage the practice. Each company punishes nepotism differently, and each company has its own definition of the types of relationships that qualify. For instance, some companies prohibit people from hiring blood relatives, while others prohibit individuals who are married from working together. In some companies, even just living with a person may be enough to disqualify them as an employee.


Penalties for violating a company’s “nepotism laws” vary, depending on the company. One such penalty is that the individual may have to reimburse the company for any payments made to the relative as a result of the relative’s employment. Some companies do not even specify a penalty, just that they frown upon such practice..

Nepotism Example in a Civil Lawsuit

The matter of Harris v. UTC/Pratt & Whitney is an example of nepotism so serious that it leads to litigation. Here, Roney Harris began working for Pratt & Whitney in August of 1979. He was happy when he started working for the company, and he did his job as best he could, yet he still watched as his peers, who had less seniority, receive promotions over him in 1989. He believed his supervisor was engaging in both favoritism and nepotism, and he tried to transfer departments. In 1991, the company laid him off.

Connecticut Commission for Human Rights and Opportunities

Thereafter, Harris became ill, and his doctor diagnosed him with work-related stress. Harris then saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with depression. Harris filed a claim with the Connecticut Commission for Human Rights and Opportunities alleging Pratt Whitney had engaged in discrimination and termination without good cause. The commissioner dismissed the complaint and noted that Harris’ performance evaluations reflected inconsistencies between Harris’ self-evaluation and the evaluation provided by his former supervisor.

Ultimately, the trial commissioner found that Pratt Whitney laid off Harris due to industry conditions, and not for any personal reasons whatsoever. He dismissed Harris’ claim, finding that Harris did not provide any convincing evidence that either his employment with Pratt Whitney or the termination of his employment caused him any significant physical or emotional difficulties.

Worker’s Compensation Commission

Harris then appealed the Connecticut Commission for Human Rights and Opportunities’ decision to the Worker’s Compensation Commission in 1996. Here, Harris tried to offer additional proof to support his initial claims. However, the board found that, not only were these items immaterial to the matters set before it, but also that these were readily available to Harris during his initial hearing, had he chosen to present them. The commission ultimately affirmed the dismissal.

Said the commission, in its decision:

“The claimant has filed a Motion to Submit Additional Evidence with this board. He seeks to submit two items: Dr. Kuperminc’s reports, and a letter from Chairman Frankl to the claimant dated December 10, 1996. As discussed above, the admissibility of Dr. Kuperminc’s reports was an issue for the trial commissioner, not this board. They are not material to the issues before us on review, and were quite available at the formal hearing. Thus, they do not meet the criteria set forth in Admin. Reg. § 31-301-9.

As for the Chairman’s letter, it is simply an explanation of the effect of our previous Harris decision that was made in response to an inquiry by the claimant. Both parties received copies of that letter, and it is part of the record that this panel has considered on review. It need not be submitted into evidence.

As for the decision of the subsequent trial commissioner declining to reopen the instant case pending the outcome of this appeal, we find no error there as well. It would certainly be incongruous for a trier to attempt to vacate or modify a decision that has been appealed to the CRB, as jurisdiction over the issues appealed becomes lodged in this board until our decision is rendered.

Now that our decision affirming the February 14, 1997 dismissal of the instant claim has been rendered, the claimant will be able to decide in which venue, if any, his next step should be taken. In the meantime, both of the decisions underlying the claimant’s appeals in this case are affirmed.” [Citation omitted.]

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Conflict of Interest – A situation wherein a person may be able to enjoy some sort of personal benefit as the result of the actions or decisions they make in their official capacity.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony.