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Understanding the federal government’s rules about nepotism

by | Jul 9, 2022 | Federal employment

It seems like there’s nepotism in just about every line of work. Whether it’s a restaurant owner giving his nephew a busboy job or a director giving her child a coveted role in her film. However, the federal government has specific regulations against nepotism. 

The Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) states that an employee with “authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action” shall not use their authority to “appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position any individual who is a relative” in the agency where they work or “over which such employee exercises jurisdiction or control as such an official.”

Relatives include not just blood relatives but in-laws as well as “half” or “step” relatives. The language hasn’t been updated to address other relationships, such as those involving unmarried people who have been long-term romantic partners. However, other prohibited personnel practices (PPP) do address those cases.

Nepotism must involve an “act of advocacy”

The anti-nepotism rules don’t prohibit a person’s relative from taking a job in the same agency where that person is in a position of authority. The MSPB states that what is prohibited is an “act of advocacy” for the family member that could constitute an improper influence on the person in the position of hiring (or promoting, disciplining or terminating) them. Of course, they couldn’t directly hire them.

Even if someone in authority knows a relative is seeking a job in their agency, they likely aren’t violating the regulations if they don’t advocate for them in any way or discuss their qualifications with anyone who is in a position to make personnel decisions impacting them.

Making a claim

If an employee believes that someone has violated the provision against nepotism, they can make a claim with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). If the OSC agrees, it can ask the MSPB to take disciplinary action, and the case will go before an administrative law judge. The potential penalties vary but can include everything from a reprimand to termination and a fine.’

It’s important to note that as with any kind of whistleblowing, a person who reports such activity cannot suffer consequences to their job as a result. It’s important to understand and protect your rights if you make a claim. It’s wise to have legal guidance throughout the process.