“Employment of Relatives Policy and Procedure Clarification” (and my response)

It looks like I haven’t been the only one wondering about the whole “employment of relatives” policy thing.  James Gallaher, who is the director of human resources at EMU, sent around the following email today:

To All Faculty

A number of faculty have raised questions and concerns regarding the forthcoming Board of Regents Employment of Relatives policy.  This communication is intended to provide clarification regarding the policy.

The Employment of Relatives policy and procedure addresses situations where employees are working either directly (immediate supervisor) or indirectly (i.e. working within the same reporting line structure) under the supervision of a relative.

For example, a faculty member is related to his/her department head. In this situation the department head would be required to develop a management plan to appropriately address the situation. The plan should address the reporting relationship, supervision, and evaluation of the individual to ensure that there will be no decision making or favoritism based upon the relationship in promotion, wages, hours, or other conditions of employment as a result of supervising the related individual.  The management plan would then be reviewed by the Dean and Human Resources. Authority for final review and approval for all management plans rest with the President.

The Employment of Relatives policy and procedure would not affect those situations in which related individuals are working in the same department and have no supervisory reporting relationship to each other. For example, husband and wife faculty members working in the English Department and neither reports to the other. In this situation, since there is no reporting relationship there would be no need to review the situation, or develop a management plan as described in the procedure.

It is also important to make it clear that the policy would not preclude the hiring of relatives. The policy will provide specific guidelines for the employment of relatives and require that such situations be appropriately documented, approved, and managed.

If the policy is approved at next week’s board meeting, a procedure to support the policy will be shared with the campus and the appropriate HR office will begin working with known situations to develop appropriate management plans. Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

Thank You,

James Gallaher

Chief Human Resources Officer

Eastern Michigan University

This is certainly an improvement, but I did send a response that offered some suggestions on further clarifying this:

Dear James–

Thanks for the email regarding this proposed policy statement. I appreciate the clarification you are offering and I intend to keep this email handy as an official interpretation of this policy regarding the employment of relatives in the same department. That said, I remain concerned about the actual wording of the policy statement as it currently stands, specifically the first paragraph:

“It is well accepted that employment of relatives in the same area of an organization can cause serious conflicts and problems with favoritism and employee morale. In these circumstances, all parties leave themselves open to charges of inequitable consideration in decisions concerning work assignments, transfer opportunities, performance evaluations, promotions, demotions, disciplinary actions, and discharge. In addition to claims of partiality in treatment at work, personal conflicts from outside the work environment can be carried into day-to-day working relationships.”

I am not a lawyer, but I find this paragraph troubling for at least two reasons. First, the sloppy passive construction of the first sentence implies that “everyone” accepts as a fact that relatives working in the same area will result in problems. Obviously, I don’t think this is true. Second, this paragraph is unfortunately clear in that merely “employment in the same area of an organization”–not supervision of one spouse by the other– will cause problems and should be avoided.

Like I said, I appreciate your interpretation of the proposed policy statement. However, I worry that this first paragraph is easily open to a much stricter interpretation at a later date.  In my reading, all it would take to prevent a spousal hire in the English department is an administrator’s overly zealous reading of that first paragraph.

If I may be so bold as to offer a suggestion to clarifying the policy: I would suggest cutting the first paragraph entirely. Beginning with the second paragraph makes it clear that the policy is about the problems of one relative supervising another. I would also suggest that you add into this policy statement that if one relative does end up supervising another, then one option (besides “reassignment”) is to develop a management plan as you describe it in your email.

Again, thank you for your email and clarification, and I hope you will take my suggestions into consideration.


So we’ll see what happens, I suppose.

3 thoughts on ““Employment of Relatives Policy and Procedure Clarification” (and my response)

  1. In the 1990s, one Department Head, in commenting on a problem that was needlessly magnified by poorly written communications from the human resources office at EMU, said the HR administrators “couldn’t pass” the basic EMU composition class required of all students.

    Much time has passed and top administrators have changed, but the basic problem persists. Clearly, the proposed policy that the BOR is expected to approve Tuesday could be more carefully written to say precisely what is intended and to avoid permitting interpretations that are not intended.

    A solid, well written policy is self explanatory. This one isn’t, and problems will result.


  2. grady, I assume that this would apply to everyone and not just faculty; then again, given that this just went out to faculty, maybe not.

    Mark, I agree, though with one caveat: if writing polices that were clear and self-explanatory were simply just “obvious,” then writing teachers like me would be out of a job. 😉 At least there’s an effort here to clarify what’s been written, and I hope the powers that be take me up on my revision suggestions, too.


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