Employee Referrals: The Risk of Hiring Relatives

by Nanci Lamborn

It’s one of the most unnerving statements an employee can make to the Hiring Manager while dropping off the resume of a referral. “She’s my (sister-cousin-mother-daughter-lover-ex-wife-fiancée.) She’s really smart, she works real hard, and I heard you’re interviewing, right? I told her you might give her a call.”

Oh my lordamercy. Oops, did I say that out loud? I meant, “Thank you! This is great; I look forward to setting up an interview with her.” (on the Eleventeenth of Noctembuary). After a brief scan of said resume, which appears to have been produced on an authentic Olympia SM9 Wide-Carriage Electronic DeLuxe (which is a typewriter for you youngsters), the experience listed by our candidate spans the gamut from Lunchroom Lady (presently) to Telemarketer (in 1977), complete with a Sally Struthers ICS School Bookkeeping Diploma (also in 1977). And let’s see, what openings do we have right now? Oh yes, it’s a SQL Server .Net Developer in IT. I’m sure she’ll fit right in.

Does your firm allow the hiring of relatives? I know that some companies (perhaps the smart ones) have a strict no-relatives policy. I’ve also seen a few places that not only permit relatives to work alongside one another, but who advocate the concept rather heavily and who think it’s a grand idea. In one of these firms, at one given time on a floor of about fifty clerical workers, we had no less than seven individuals who were all related in some way. This sounds fine on the surface. But the week that this family’s Great-Grandma passed away, the extra absenteeism was noticed everywhere. (“Is today some sort of holiday?”)

Since Great-Grandmothers usually only pass away once, perhaps these simultaneous absences could be overlooked (unless Great-Grandma was one of sixteen children). But what about adding the elements of disciplinary problems into the mix? The sharing of what should otherwise be highly confidential performance discussions cannot be avoided amongst families, and this area may be the element that has the highest potential for conflict and tension in the workplace. It’s also why I personally disagree with the whole familial thing.

Case in point:  A very young administrative clerk had some recurring tardiness and absenteeism problems combined with high error ratios. This clerk’s direct supervisor was also her Aunt, whose sibling managed another department in the same firm. These were three of the aforementioned seven related workers. When Miss Clerk came on board, management was betting upon Aunt Supervisor’s previously observed ship-shape managerial style to prove that the bloodlines could be as successful. Turns out, management was quite wrong.

The payroll processing department first began to notice the troubling attendance issues on Miss Clerk’s weekly time cards all approved by Aunt Supervisor, who had never before permitted such indiscretions on her watch. Payroll alerted management who then had to point out the company handbook policies that Miss Clerk was violating and require an explanation from Auntie. Subsequently Aunt Supervisor began “amending” Miss Clerk’s time sheets as her way of correcting the situation, which opened up a glorious can of worms. Suffice to say that hell hath no fury like a woman and her relatives scorned. The dirty looks, the upturned noses, the suddenly silenced discussions when passing… it was so uncomfortable that even the most dire of lavatory urges could be quelled if a member of “That Family” were suspected of already occupying a portion of the 8-stall public restroom. Who wants to get beat up in the loo at work?

Associated Content author Murad Ali wrote a very insightful piece entitled “Tips For Hiring Your Relatives” http://tinyurl.com/y9wmg2g, in which he outlines many of the drawbacks including lack of confidentiality and discipline, and he makes some good suggestions regarding the discussion of expectations up front if your firm decides to take on the challenge. But for those firms who prefer to avoid the familial mess altogether, just when we think we can enforce non-relations across the board, along comes legislation to dare us to try to prevent it. Another article, “Creating a No-Spouse Rule” by A.C. author Steve Thompson http://tinyurl.com/yh7yjc9, opens up some surprising discussion on state laws that now could bring discriminatory allegations into the mix if the relatives are a married couple. So before rushing off to reprint your company handbook, check with your legal counsel to confirm what your state does and does not permit.

Nature calls. Will someone check the loo for me?

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