Nepotism is something of a buzzword, and it's generally seen in a negative light, particularly in government. Merriam-Webster defines the term as "favoritism based on kinship." Most organizations avoid nepotism because it's seen as unfair and it brings to mind more sinister concepts like cronyism and the spoils system.
Many companies prohibit nepotism, but it remains rampant in business, sports, and entertainment. Donald Trump's children are executive vice presidents of his companies, and, as President, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, was his senior advisor. National Football League owners Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft also placed their children in executive positions with their respective franchises. The children of Hollywood producers and A-list actors are often cast in roles based on their family connections.
Countless laws and policies prohibit nepotism under particular circumstances in the public sector. The prohibitions most often deal in the areas of human resources and procurement. These are hot-button areas because of the money involved in hiring personnel and awarding government contracts.
Nepotism Is Not Simply Working Together
The key word in Merriam-Webster's definition is "favoritism." It's certainly not uncommon for family members to work for the same company, and in and of itself, this doesn't have to be a negative thing. Ultimately, it's the terms of the workplace relationship that set the tone for charges of nepotism.
Common Nepotism Rules
Nepotism can be somewhat difficult to avoid in small local governments given the small applicant pool and the likelihood that there are few other employers nearby. In medium-sized and large governments, nepotism policies tend to be nuanced around reporting structures. Family members might not be prohibited from working within the organization, but there may be prohibitions on a few actions, such as hiring a family member or serving on an interview panel where a family member is an applicant. Directly supervising a family member is typically against the rules, as is working in the same line of supervision as a family member
Nepotism rules often require that job applicants and potential contractors disclose their relationships with any employees up front.
Family members of elected officials, appointed officials, and chief government executives are often prohibited from working within the organizations their family members lead. This happens because those individuals are at the top of the organization so all employees fall in their line of supervision. Additionally, the mere appearance of impropriety among those in high levels of authority can cost politicians elections.
Nepotism in U.S. History
Approximately 40 of President Ulysses S. Grant's family members and family connections benefited from his presidency. In the Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime, Lawrence Salinger cites instances of Grant and Mrs. Grant's family members being appointed to public office.
Additionally, Robert F. Kennedy served as United States Attorney General under his brother President John F. Kennedy.