What to do if boss pushes you to hire his unqualified friend

Say a company exec asks you to hire his relative or friend, or he not so subtly urges you to give the application “strong consideration.”

You want to reject the candidate because he’s obviously unqualified. But you don’t want to commit career suicide. What do you do?

Your response could either enhance or diminish your ability to become a strategic player.

Don’t play the legal card right away.

You know that hiring unqualified relatives and friends could potentially result in legal action alleging discrimination. But hold off on preaching about the law, advises Michael W. Fox, an employment law attorney at Ogletree Deakins in Austin, Texas.

“Use the legal hammer as a last resort,” says Fox. “Getting a reputation for turning to the law first won’t be nearly as effective as educating first on legitimate reasons why this causes problems in the workplace.”

One exception: if the hiring would be a clear case of discrimination.

Instead, educate executives about the potential impact on the workplace of hiring unqualified family members and friends. Fox says focus on the following points:

  • Executives and managers should follow the same HR practices as other employees. Setting a separate standard for relatives and friends of executives hurts productivity and morale.  
  • The lack of qualifications and experiences sets the candidate up for failure, which would disappoint both the executive and employee.
  • An unqualified relative or friend may perform poorly and become ostracized by co-workers who believe the person doesn’t deserve the job. 
  • If co-workers spread the word about the unfair hire, it can embarrass the company, the exec and the employee.

Final note: If your organization doesn’t have a policy for hiring relatives, then draft one (see box). If you do have a policy, urge that the company follow it with no exceptions.

Free sample policy: Employment of relatives

Access a sample policy that prohibits employees from working in a direct reporting relationship with family members at www.theHRSpecialist.com/relatives.