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By Ask a Manager
June 3, 2015

Q: Am I wrong to refuse to hire my coworkers’ kids as summer interns?

I work for a small, family-owned company. This summer, I’m in a position to hire a summer student – strictly for the department I work in, and I have been given complete reign in terms of how I conduct the hiring process, including the interview process.

Since the summer student in question will be directly answerable to me, I’ve decided to not hire any children of any coworkers in the office. My reasons are to avoid any conflict of interests – especially from what I call the “mama bear” or “papa bear” syndrome. For instance, if I give a perfectly legitimate task that the student just doesn’t want to do, will he or she run to the parent to get involved and pipe up on behalf of their child? Or if I need to give a bad performance review (due to bad performance), will the parent once again get involved? The last thing we want is the child of a coworker coming in with an “entitlement” attitude because they feel they can run to a parent the moment they feel the job’s too tough or if they feel too much is demanded from them.

This isn’t sitting well with some coworkers who want to get their children in for the summer. Is my approach off base?

A: There are loads of reasons to prefer not to hire children of coworkers. In addition to the concerns you mentioned, there’s also the risk that your relationship with the parent may be affected if the intern doesn’t like you, or feels that you’re treating her in a way that’s unfair, or if you need to give critical feedback or even fire the intern or decline to give a positive reference in the future. Is that really not going to impact your relationship with their parent/your coworker?

It’s possible that the parent will be fantastic at maintaining a firewall between their relationship with you and whatever is going on between you and their kid, but that’s something that can be tough to know in advance, and it’s reasonable to simply not want to take on that risk. (These are all the same reasons that you might decline to hire a coworker’s spouse, too.)

I’d say this to coworkers who push you to reconsider: “I’m sure Jane is great. I’d just feel too awkward managing the child of a coworker though; I want to be able to be unbiased and to give candid feedback without worrying about my relationship with the parent.”

If the person insists that won’t be a problem and continues to push, you can add, “To be honest, this is an example of what makes me uncomfortable about it. I think it would be tough to have an intern’s parent here in the office advocating for them. I’m just not comfortable with it, but I hope she finds something great this summer.”

Q: I know my coworker secretly plans to quit after maternity leave. Should I say anything?

A close friend coworker of mine is due with her second baby in July. We have a temp coming in to transition her work during her leave from June to October. She confided in me over lunch that 3 weeks after she comes back to work, she is resigning and moving across the country. This plan is elaborate and already in the works.

I think taking months of maternity leave pay and benefits, knowing you are going to quit shortly thereafter (within 2 months), is robbery and a truly bad thing to do. I am on very good terms with our head of HR and talent. I feel bad keeping this secret. I know the temp coming in (former employee who saw grass isn’t always greener) and strongly assume that she will want the full-time gig if presented to her after the current employee’s departure.

I assume I should keep my mouth shut, because it isn’t my secret to share and the mom may change her mind (unlikely but of course, possible). What do you think?

A: I agree that it’s a crappy thing to do (less so if it’s a large organization that can easily absorb the burden, and more so if it’s a small organization that will be more impacted), but the law does allow it. (Well, sort of; if an employee gives unequivocal notice that she won’t be returning to work at the end of the leave, the employer’s FMLA obligations do end.) To be clear, I don’t have a problem with people doing this if they’re not totally sure of their plans and think they might actually end up going back or want to keep that option open; my objection is only to situations like this one where it’s a certain plan and she’s misleading people.

As for whether you should tell HR: If you’re in a management role, you have more of an obligation to share what you know, but if you’re not, I’d figure that she was talking to you as a friend and you should keep her confidence accordingly.

These questions are adapted from ones that originally appeared on Ask a Manager. Some questions have been edited for length.

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