Managing Nepotism and Personal Relationships
Frequently Asked Questions
Purpose and Scope
- What is the purpose of the Nepotism and Personal Relationships policy (“the policy”)?
The policy aims to promote employment and academic practices that are fair, equitable, and free from actual, potential, and/or perceived conflicts of interest arising out of personal relationships. The policy supports merit-based decision-making, where employment and academic decisions are not based on personal relationships.
- When is a close personal friendship between University members considered to be a nepotism situation?
A close personal friendship between University members can, in some circumstances, give rise to a nepotism situation that needs to be addressed as described in the policy. This policy provision is not intended to discourage individuals who work with one another from forming friendships, or to suggest that all friendships among University members will constitute nepotism situations under the policy.
Rather, close personal friendships between University members must be addressed under the policy when the relationships have created, could create, or could be reasonably perceived as creating a conflict of interest. For example, a nepotism situation may arise if a supervisor spends significant time socializing with a direct report outside of the office. Such a situation could, at a minimum, lead to a perception by others that the supervisor will unfairly favor this direct report in work-related matters. Under the policy, steps should be taken to effectively mitigate the conflict of interest (perceived or real) created by the supervisor’s and direct report’s close personal friendship.
- When is a business relationship between University members considered to be a nepotism situation?
For University members who work together, an external significant business relationship is likely to result in a nepotism situation that needs to be addressed. A significant business relationship may be present when, among other things: (1) the parties’ business relationship has been, or is expected to be, of significant duration; (2) the parties spend significant time with one another related to their business relationship; and/or (3) one or both of the parties gain or expect to gain significant benefits (e.g., salary, ownership interest, future employment) as a result of their business relationship.
The following are examples of significant business relationships that constitute nepotism situations under the policy:
- A supervisor rents housing to a supervisee or a faculty member rents housing to a student over whom they have direct academic or employment influence.
- University employees are coworkers in their University employment, as well as co-owners of a business external to the University.
- A faculty member employs their graduate student advisee in an external business.
- When must a University member report a personal relationship with another University member to a responsible administrator, and what information must be reported?
A report should be made when a University member directly influences the University employment (e.g., hiring, promotion, supervision, evaluation, and determination of salary) or academic progress (e.g., grading and advising) of a University member with whom they have a personal relationship (e.g., a relative, romantic or business partner, or close personal friend). A report should also be made when University members in a personal relationship interact in their University roles in a manner that does not constitute nepotism, but that gives rise to a reasonable possibility or perception that nepotism may occur.
An individual involved in a possible nepotism situation should notify the responsible administrator that they have a personal relationship with the other University member that may give rise to a possible nepotism situation. The individuals involved will generally not need to disclose the nature of their personal relationship.
- To whom should a student report when the student believes they are involved in a nepotism situation?
If a student believes that they are a possible party to a nepotism situation together with an employee, the student should report the situation to the employee’s supervisor, or the unit director or head. If a student believes that they are a possible party to a nepotism situation together with a student or other University member or guest, the student should report the situation to the responsible administrator who oversees the domain in which the nepotism situation arises. For example, if the nepotism situation is occurring within a student group, the student can report the situation to the University employee advising that student group.
Role of Responsible Administrator
- Who decides whether a nepotism situation can be eliminated or effectively mitigated?
The responsible administrator should determine whether a nepotism situation can be eliminated or effectively mitigated. The responsible administrator may consult with their supervisor, Human Resources, and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action in making this determination. Where the responsible administrator determines that the nepotism situation cannot be eliminated or effectively mitigated, the responsible administrator must request that the senior administrator determine whether to grant an exception to the policy.
- How should a responsible administrator determine whether a nepotism situation can be effectively mitigated under the policy?
A responsible administrator may consider the following factors when determining whether a nepotism situation can be effectively mitigated.
- Consider whether the conditions of the employment or academic association of the parties could be restructured in a way that minimizes the direct influence that one party has on the other’s employment or academic progress. Such restructuring can contribute to mitigating a nepotism situation.
For example, a nepotism situation can often be effectively mitigated by removing the hiring or other employment decision-making authority from one of the parties, reassigning the job responsibilities of one or both parties, or changing a party’s advisor or class assignment.
- Consider the risk that preferential treatment will result from the nepotism situation. It is less likely possible to effectively mitigate a nepotism situation where the potential for preferential treatment is high.
For example, the potential for preferential treatment may be high if one party to a nepotism situation fully funds the other party’s salary through a grant, or if one party regularly makes decisions about whether to allocate resources and projects to the other party. In such cases, the responsible administrator may consider whether oversight could effectively reduce the chance of preferential treatment.
- Consider whether a nepotism situation could deter individuals from reporting concerns about misconduct or safety violations by one or both of the parties.
For example, an employee may be reluctant to report theft by a coworker who has a personal relationship with the employee’s supervisor. In this type of case, the nepotism situation may still be effectively mitigated by designating an individual in a position of authority who does not have a conflict of interest to receive such reports and communicating this to unit members.
The concern that a nepotism situation will deter reporting of misconduct is particularly salient when nepotism situations exist in areas that are more vulnerable to safety risks or ethical breaches—such as where there is a personal relationship between a principal investigator and the director of their lab, and where the research involves dangerous lab materials or oversight of human or animal subjects. In such situations, the risk that lab employees would be deterred from reporting ethical or safety concerns resulting from the lab director’s conduct may be impossible to effectively mitigate.
- In the case of a pre-existing nepotism situation, consider whether the personal relationship has previously resulted in concerns about favoritism, negatively contributed to the department’s culture, or had other undesirable effects. If this is not the case, the nepotism situation is more likely able to be effectively mitigated.
- How can a responsible administrator effectively mitigate a situation in which one party to a nepotism situation reports to a supervisor who, in turn, reports to the other party to a nepotism situation?
In many cases, a management plan can be implemented to remove any direct influence that the higher-level party has over the lower-level party to the nepotism situation. For example, where a faculty member and a dean in the same college have a personal relationship, a management plan can dictate that the dean has no oversight over the faculty member, and can identify another appropriate individual (e.g., the provost) to oversee the department head’s supervision of that faculty member.
- When has a nepotism situation been eliminated so that implementation of a management plan is unnecessary?
In some cases, it is possible to eliminate one party’s direct influence over the employment or academic progress of another party with whom they have a personal relationship. For example, a student in a personal relationship with a Teaching Assistant (TA) can be switched to another TA’s section. Or, an employee in a personal relationship with a supervisor can be assigned to a different supervisor. In these situations, the nepotism situation is eliminated and a management plan is unnecessary, except to the extent that the parties continue to interact in their University roles in a manner that gives rise to a reasonable possibility or perception that nepotism may occur. In these cases, where there continues to be a reasonable possibility or perception that nepotism may occur, the responsible administrator should consider whether a management plan should be implemented.
- How should a responsible administrator determine what information about a nepotism situation, if any, should be shared with others?
The procedures state that a responsible administrator or their designee will develop a communication plan, as needed, to share information about nepotism situations with individuals who have a need to know. In considering which individuals, if any, need to know about a nepotism situation, the responsible administrator should consider the privacy interests of the parties to the nepotism situation, as well as the potential benefits and downsides of sharing information about a nepotism situation or management plan with others.
In some cases, information about a nepotism situation does not need to be shared beyond the signatories to the management plan. For example, this may be the case in situations where the parties do not work closely with one another, and where no concerns have been raised about favoritism between the parties by others in the unit or department. Such confidentiality may be especially important when disclosure of the nepotism situation or management plan would result in sharing sensitive information about the parties’ sexual orientation or private sexual relationship.
In other cases, it may be useful or necessary to share information about a nepotism situation or management plan with certain individuals. In some cases, sharing information about a management plan can help to dispel concerns that preferential treatment will occur. For example, if a faculty member is instructing a relative in a seminar, a responsible administrator may consider whether it would be useful to have the faculty member tell the seminar students about this familial relationship and how it is being handled under the nepotism policy (e.g., the student is auditing the course to avoid the possibility of preferential grading).
As another example, where unit members are aware that their supervisor has entered into a business relationship with a supervisee, it may be useful to inform those unit members that the potential conflict of interest situation is being addressed appropriately according to the nepotism policy (e.g., a different supervisor is being assigned to conduct the supervisee’s performance evaluations, make salary and resource-related decisions, etc.).
In both of these examples, it would also be appropriate to provide seminar or unit members with information about where to report any concerns that may arise due to the nepotism situation.
- Who is the responsible administrator when the individuals involved in a nepotism situation work in different units and have different supervisors?
In this situation, both supervisors are responsible administrators and should collaborate in responding to the nepotism situation.
Role of Senior Administrator
- What should a senior administrator consider when determining whether to grant an exception to the policy for a nepotism situation that cannot be eliminated or effectively mitigated?
In making this determination, the senior administrator should consider whether granting an exception to this policy is in the best interests of the parties, the unit, and the University. In particular, the senior administrator may:
- Consider the risk that preferential treatment will result from the nepotism situation. For example, the potential for preferential treatment is likely higher in situations where one party has significant authority that could be used to benefit the other party, and where it is unlikely that such preferential treatment could be effectively prevented.
- Consider whether the nepotism situation could deter individuals from reporting concerns about misconduct or safety violations by one or both of the parties. This concern is particularly salient where nepotism situations exist in areas that are more vulnerable to safety risks or ethical breaches—such as where there is a personal relationship between a principal investigator and the director of their lab, and where the research involves dangerous lab materials or oversight of human or animal subjects. In such situations, the risk that lab employees would be deterred from reporting ethical or safety concerns resulting from the lab director’s conduct may be too great to allow the nepotism situation.
- Consider whether the nepotism situation is likely to have a negative impact on department culture or climate.
- In the case of a pre-existing nepotism situation, consider whether the personal relationship has previously resulted in concerns about favoritism, negatively contributed to the department’s culture, or has had other undesirable effects. If not, it may be more appropriate to grant an exception from the policy
- Consider the benefits to the University from permitting the parties to continue employment in their current roles.
- Does the policy prohibit a University employee from, in the course of their employment, hiring their child to work, volunteer, or intern for them?
Yes. The policy prohibits an employee from hiring, or influencing the hire, of their child, close relative, or other individual with whom they are in a personal relationship under the policy. The policy also prohibits an employee from providing other significant work-related benefits to individuals with whom they are in a personal relationship, such as selecting a close relative for an internship or volunteer position.
A unit’s hiring of a unit employee’s child is permissible if: 1) the opportunity is made available to other potential candidates (e.g., by conducting a search); 2) a search committee or hiring manager determines that the employee’s child is the best candidate based on their qualifications and skills; 3) the search committee or hiring manager does not have an actual or potential conflict of interest (as defined in the policy) in making the hiring decision; and, 4) if the selection of the employee’s child will pose an ongoing nepotism situation, either i) the nepotism situation can be effectively eliminated or mitigated; or ii) the senior administrator has made a decision in advance of offering the position to the employee’s child to exempt the nepotism situation from the policy. These same principles also apply to the selection process for a volunteer or intern.
Even if such hire or selection of an employee’s child is permissible, it is discouraged because of its potential negative impact on the work environment. If the employee’s child is hired (or selected as a volunteer or intern), all other provisions of the policy must still be followed. For example, any conflicts of interest between the employee’s child and University members who have direct influence over the employee’s child must be effectively eliminated or mitigated or the senior administrator must exempt the nepotism situation from the policy.
- Does the policy apply if two employees begin a personal relationship with each other after their employment begins?
Yes. If two employees in the same unit begin a personal relationship (e.g., romantic or sexual relationship, significant business relationship, or close personal friendship) that creates a nepotism situation, both employees must report the situation to the appropriate responsible administrator. The responsible administrator’s responsibilities under the policy to effectively eliminate or mitigate the nepotism situation are the same. See FAQ #XX.
In addition, University members should consider the potential impact of any power differentials related to their University roles when engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with one another. For reasons stated in the policy, among others, faculty members and others in instructional roles are discouraged from having romantic or sexual relationships with students.
- Does the policy apply if two employees in a personal relationship do research together, including on a grant?
Yes. Nepotism could occur where two employees in a personal relationship work on a research project together, and where one of the employees directly influences the University employment of the other or if the personal relationship has a negative impact on the educational or work environment. For example, there is likely to be a nepotism situation if one party is the Principal Investigator on a grant and/or is responsible for allocating funds to the other party with whom they have a personal relationship. In such a situation, other collaborators on the grant might be less likely to report concerns that they may have about the other party’s work performance or conduct to the PI, which could create risks to the research project or other aspects of the work or educational environment. Or, questions could arise about the objectivity of the PI’s assessment of the other party’s work, which could raise concerns of favoritism and lead to a decline of workplace morale.
In such situations, the responsible administrator should determine whether they can effectively mitigate the nepotism situation in ways that allow both employees to remain in their current University positions. If, in doing so, the parties are likely to continue to interact with one another in their University roles, changes must be made to mitigate the nepotism situation to the extent possible and these changes must be memorialized in a management plan.
if the nepotism situation can only be eliminated or effectively mitigated by removing one or both of the parties from their University positions, a senior administrator can determine whether to grant an exception to the policy.
- How does the revised policy apply to management plans (formerly referred to as nepotism agreements) that were put in place before this date?
Responsible administrators must review management plans to determine whether they need to be updated or retired on an annual basis. When reviewing management plans that were implemented before this policy was revised, responsible administrators should ensure that the nepotism situation under review has been addressed in compliance with the revised policy.