Originally created 09/22/96

Employers frown on nepotism



Marriage might be the greatest of social institutions, but when it comes to employers, it's among the most scorned.

Many businesses explicitly forbid hiring members of the same immediate family .°.°. especially spouses.

Such nepotism might be nice at first, many said, but it just makes for ugly problems down the road.

"The great majority of companies will not hire a spouse regardless of credentials," said Ray Fehrenbach, president of Southern Recruiters and Consultants Inc. in Aiken. As a "headhunter," Mr. Fehrenbach recruits professional and management level employees for corporate clients.

"We as recruiters run into it all the time. .°.°. That presents a problem for us, in fact it's a real tough one. I've been in business 20 years and I've placed one couple, I mean simultaneously."

But that's at the executive level.

"I don't know if you can throw everybody in the same pot," he said.

Where nepotism is allowed, it's often hourly and lower level salaried positions, said one staffing company executive. It's also often allowed by manufacturers where the work force is limited, perhaps by the size of the community.

"I'm in Waynesville, N.C., today and there's one employer," said Randy Hatcher, president of MAU staffing service in Augusta. "If they didn't allow that, there wouldn't be enough people to run the plant."

But, "When it comes to salaried, management-type people, it's a no-no. The great majority of companies will not hire spouses."

That's so at Menardi-Criswell, the Aiken-based maker of industrial filter bags. Hiring married workers is more than frowned upon.

"We have a nepotism policy. We do not knowingly hire relatives," said Sandra Hensley, human resources manager.

Although, she said, "We do have some relatives working here who were grandfathered at the time the policy came out."

Still, some companies may be relaxing nepotism policies, according to one staffing company executive.

"I think the policy for most large companies is that it's OK .°.°. as long as (the married workers) are supervised by different people and in different departments," said Bonnie McCormick of the Job Shop in Augusta.

Augusta-based Osbon Medical Systems subscribes to that policy.

"We do not have a ban," said spokeswoman Jo Ann Hoffman, "but you are not allowed to be in the same department or under the supervision of the spouse."

Mr. Hatcher said he's observed no trend toward relaxing the policies against nepotism, but "We haven't seen companies that didn't have it add it."

Kimberly-Clark employs more than a thousand workers, and it has little problem hiring relatives, even spouses.

"We don't have a problem hiring members of the same family," said Wayne Ready, human resources manager at the consumer products manufacturer.

"I can't think of any problems that causes from our standpoint. If there was, we'd assign the people in a fashion that would prevent that. To my knowledge we haven't had to deal with that issue."

Other manufacturers also have little concern hiring spouses. Some even employ near entire families.

But while some employers may have little worry about such nepotism, that may be more true in the rank and file than in among executives, professionals and managers - and especially among those who handle money.

There's a higher standard in financial institutions, suggested Donna Stockton, spokeswoman for First Union Corp. in Charlotte, N.C.

"Banks are strictly regulated, and the fiduciary responsibility must be maintained," she said.

In banks and other financial industries, dual control, two people overseeing most actions, helps prevent fraud. If spouses were allowed to supervise the same things, that control could be breached.

Under certain situations, related employees are allowed to work in different divisions of the company - not just in different departments.

"Employees who marry while both are employed, may retain employment while both do not work in the same office, division, affiliate, or areas where there are security concerns," she said, quoting from a policy manual.

"If both employees are in the same office, we try to arrange a suitable transfer. If they cannot effect a successful transfer within three months, then one of them must terminate."

Such marriages among people who were already working at a company are far more common that two married people becoming employed at the same organization after they are already married, said Fred Gehle of Dunhill Professional Searches in Augusta. His office is part of a national recruiting chain, headquartered on Long Island, N.Y.

Ultimately, though, there's little companies can do when it comes to marriages on the job.

"We can't control that," said Ms. Hensley at Menardi-Criswell.