Is Nepotism Legal In The Workplace?

Discrimination and Harassment June 13th, 2024
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Have you ever been up for a promotion, just to find out that your boss gave the job to someone who is vastly less qualified than you? You may have been a victim of nepotism.

It has been around for centuries. In fact, the word ‘nepotism’ comes from the Italian word for nephew, and refers to a time in the Middle Ages when popes and bishops would give prized positions to their nephews.

Nepotism is alive and well in the modern world. But is it illegal?

What is Nepotism?

Nepotism is the act of giving friends or family preferential treatment in the workplace. They may hire a relative or buddy instead of taking applications from strangers, for example, or they might give a pay raise, a nicer office, or a coveted task to someone they have a relationship with rather than to a worker who may be more deserving or qualified.

It happens when supervisors and employers make hiring and human resource decisions that favor their family members, friends, or romantic partners over a more qualified worker. 

These inequitable decisions may involve:

  • Promotions
  • Pay raises
  • Exclusive job opportunities
  • Unequal distribution of benefits
  • Better working conditions
  • Biased performance evaluations
  • Protection from disciplinary actions

Is It Illegal?

It depends on the situation.

California law makes nepotism illegal in state workplaces, which are common grounds and parking areas owned or leased by the state and are used by state employees for work. Otherwise, nepotism does not violate any federal labor law, so it’s not technically illegal.

In some case, it may be illegal under Title 11 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination because of a worker’s color, race, religion, gender, or national origin. Families typically share race, color, and national origin, so any discrimination that benefits a family member may potentially be discrimination.

Can a Worker be Fired for Nepotism?

California is an at-will employment state. When you are an at-will employee, your boss can hire, fire, promote you – or give you a pay cut or raise – at any time and for any reason, as long as it is not for illegal discrimination against a protected class, such as race, religion, gender, and other protected classes. This means your employer can fire you for nepotism.

Why? Nepotism can lead to discrimination complaints and lawsuits that may slow a company down. It can reduce worker morale, be perceived as unfair, increase conflicts in the workplace, decrease productivity, damage the organization’s reputation, and even lead to a mass exodus of employees.

Do You Suspect Illegal Nepotism at Your Workplace? Contact Your Employment Attorneys At D.Law!

If you experience nepotism on the job, contact or call D.Law. We may be able to help with possible illegal nepotism associated with discrimination if you work in the private sector. 

Our attorneys understand complex employment laws and can help you navigate nepotism and protect your rights as a worker in the Bay Area, San Diego, Fresno, Los Angeles, and other California cities.

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