Brawl in the Family

September 23, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Not much; yet.

Kicking off Season 7, tonight’s premiere teaches us a valuable lesson — the perils of nepotism in the workplace. Nepotism in its simplest form is “favoritism” toward relatives, without regard to merit. Michael Scott’s misguided decision to employ his jackwagon of a nephew, Luke, as an office assistant illustrated nearly all that’s wrong with workplace nepotism. Michael completely ignored Luke’s utter disregard of the most basic of his responsibilities — from botched Starbucks and ice cream runs to blatant insubordination to hoarding important FedEx packages in the trunk of his clapped-out Honda Civic — until it quickly caused a mutiny among the Scranton staff. Only when confronted en masse did Michael attempt to discipline Luke; by spanking him!?!?

While not necessarily illegal, among the prime complaints that companies practicing nepotism typically face is the obvious lack of fairness toward those who are not related to the decisionmaker. Perceived favoritism of a relative often creates dissatisfaction and reduced morale among workers. And, employees who are awarded and promoted solely because of their familial relationships are more likely to be underqualified for the positions they are expected to fill, leading to an erosion of leadership skills and contributing to the demoralization of more deserving candidates. In sum, when workplace nepotism is present, employees often show less enthusiasm, have a lesser incentive to diligently or proficiently perform their jobs, become embittered and less productive, decide to work elsewhere, or, most importantly, become so disgruntled that they end up filing a lawsuit under an alleged discrimination or hostile work environment theory.

As typically is the case, learning by Michael’s failures to manage, Sabre would be well advised to institute a written anti-nepotism policy in its employee handbook. By way of example, many company employment policies prohibit the hiring of an employee’s relatives altogether, whereas others merely prohibit the hiring of relatives where there is a direct or indirect reporting relationship between the two related individuals. With or without policies prohibiting nepotism, the danger of overt favoritism premised solely on the basis of family ties — much like Michael — eventually breeds resentment, misery, and discord.

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1 jane
22:13:23, 23/09/10

Was wondering about the part where Toby could fulfill Michael’s requirement to get six sessions of counseling. Is that allowed?

2 Erick
06:58:31, 24/09/10

What about how the only reason that Erin said yes to Gabe asking her out was because she had to because he was her boss?

3 Chris Butler
15:22:36, 24/09/10

Jane — It’s an interesting question. But, my guess would be that, since Toby is the human resources manager for the Scranton branch, he would be inherently qualified to serve as Michael’s counselor. Is it the best decision to conduct the corrective counseling “in-house,” particularly by someone who the counselee despises — no. Allowed? — yes.

4 Chris Butler
15:27:33, 24/09/10

Erick — I was curious about that, too, and early into the show, fully expected that the budding romance between Erin and Gabe would be the focus of the night. Instead, they didn’t elaborate on it any further. Notwithstanding, I’d expect this theme to be the highlight of one of the next 2-3 episodes.

But, your question raises the issue of whether Gabe forced his love on Erin, or whether Erin simply perceived — whether rightfully or erroneously — that rebuffing Gabe’s affection would jeopardize her job security. I see a quid pro quo sexual harassment minefield being planted…

5 Joe
00:23:22, 01/10/10

This is an extreme example, especially of nepotism gone wrong, but Most jobs I’ve ever worked for filled a lot of vacant positions by referral. An employee always had a friend or a relative that was “perfect” for a job. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

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