Recently, my company did not hire someone primarily because she was the sister of a former employee that did not leave on good terms. Of course they tried to frame this in a different way, but the reason was obvious. Is this legal? I’ve tried to look up federal laws on the subject, and I’m wondering if this type of action falls under illegal discrimination, since the person’s non-hiring was based solely on her family relation to the former employee.

First of all, illegal discrimination is quite limited. It’s not illegal to discriminate against family members. In fact many, many companies have policies against hiring family members of current employees. I’ve never seen one against hiring a family member of a former employee, however, that doesn’t mean it’s illegal. I’m not a lawyer, but family-member-of-former-employee-who-left-on-bad-terms is hardly a protected class.

That said, unless you were in on the hiring discussions you can’t know for sure that this happened. Why did they bring her in for an interview if they weren’t going to hire her, based on her relative? That makes absolutely no sense. If they refused to interview her, the relationship could have been behind that, but have you checked the unemployment rates lately? Honestly, if I had 300 candidate resumes (not unusual lately) and one was the sister of the psychopath we had to fire two years ago, I wouldn’t put her as my top choice unless her qualifications were so phenomenally above the other 299 people.

And that’s my point right there: Yeah, it’s possible that her relationship hurt her, but there are so many people for each available job that it’s not likely the only reason.

It’s so much easier psychologically to blame your failure to get a particular job on something that is out of your immediate control–age, gender, marital status, children, sexual orientation, weight, etc. I’m not saying that people are never discriminated against in these things, but I am saying that more often then not there is another reason for the lack of a job offer.

If you spend time dwelling on the things that are out of your control, then you don’t have to face the things that are in your control. Right now, with huge numbers of candidates, it’s even more important to have your resume, cover letter, and interview skills perfected.

Yes, it’s a bummer this woman didn’t get this particular job. Her sister’s bad behavior may have contributed to it, but it’s time to move on.

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10 thoughts on “Failure to Hire

  1. They may have wanted to make sure that the hiring of the former employee's sister doesn't cause some sort of conflict of interest. The sister, if hired, may be distracted by what happened to her sister and may not be able to perform the job correctly.

  2. There is quite a bit of crazyness going on in the hiring process these days. On one hand, you would like to see a person not be judged based on the behavior of another, even if they are related.

    What is really peculiar about this story, as you have pointed out, is that they brought her in for an interview in the first place.

    The only explanation that comes to mind is that the hiring manager wanted her but his supervisor said, "no way!"

  3. The fact that she was related to a previous employee is just one factor in dozens used to evaluate a candidate. If they were willing to interview her, they at least saw the potential to hire her, even knowing this ahead of time. Had she really nailed the interview and any associated candidate testing, she may have gotten hired. However, if she was only a marginal or average candidate for the position, the possible conflict of interest probably outweighed the upside.

    I'm assuming most of the people here are HR pros of one form or another. Think back to hiring decision you have made or assisted in making – there are always negatives or possible worries with a candidate. No one is ever "perfect". But you weigh the pros and cons and make the decision. In this case, there was a big (potential) con, but probably not enough upside to take the risk.

    Of course, I'm assuming that this company has a rational hiring policy, and follow some rules of ethics involving employee hires. This may not be the case.

  4. The only explanation that comes to mind is that the hiring manager wanted her but his supervisor said, "no way!"

    Or possibly "strong candidate but the person we hired instead was better"?

    Without knowing anything about the other candidates, the simplest explanation is that she just wasn't the strongest candidate.

  5. I asked the question and was the hiring manager. Her relation was only discovered by accident during the interview. Yes, I wanted to hire her regardless, as she was an excellent candidate. Some other people got "nervous" and reported it to the CEO, who (without doing any investigation) torpedoed her… FWIW I've decided that no, this wasn't illegal, but is it ethical? That's for me to decide for myself and base future actions on that… Regardless, I appreciate the response HR lady!

  6. Oh – how did they frame it? They told me she was underqualified, and that was my company's official position. But if that was true, half my group is even more underqualified!… Perhaps "ethical" wasn't the right word I used – maybe "petty" is a better word, especially considering this was a junior level position. A CEO would under most circumstances have no input into this level of hiring process.

  7. Good analysis, EHRL. Thinking about this a little more, I was wondering, did the candidate address this situation? She must have known it'd be a red flag.

    I had a similar situation in that a friend recommended me to a company then left the company – she didn't quit, per se, she just never came back. I took the matter up with the recruiter and let him know I was not the same type of employee. I've been with the company for about two years now.

    In case you're interested, I piggybacked off this post here.

  8. I would wager that if the company knew she was the sister of a former "bad" employee, that they interviewed her solely to show that they were being fair – and then nixed her. My company does this sort of thing all the time. And the COO of my company does give her opinion to hiring and firing at all levels of the company – no matter how inappropriate that is. She has also started hiring all her friends to work there – even though they are not qualified. Obviously, the place is a nightmare and I am actively looking for a new job.

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