Forced to Hire Someone For Reasons Other Than Job Qualifications: Recent Poll Indicates This Is A Common Issue

Have you ever been asked to hire someone who really wasn’t qualified?

Which of the following do you think was most frequently mentioned as the cause of such a hire: nepotism, cronyism, race/ethnicity/gender?

A poll of over 500 HR managers by gives some answers to this question.

The poll found the following results:

  • 34 percent said cronyism
  • 21 percent cited nepotism
  • 15 percent said race, ethnicity, or gender
  • 11 percent reported that the boss liked her for more than her job skills
  • Another 18 percent said other.

It sounds like hiring people for reasons other than job qualifications is not so uncommon. What does this say about our emphasis on fairness, high productivity, and business sense?


  1. Generally speaking, only race, ethnicity, or gender would actually be unlawful reasons.

    Hiring because “the boss liked her for more than her job skills” obviously could lead to legal trouble if the boss did more than just quietly admire her beauty!

    But decisions based on race, ethnicity, or gender — if intended to improve workforce diversity — arguably bring broader benefits that could outweigh the immediate productivity hit from hiring a less qualified individual. This would probably not make it lawful, however, if challenged as “reverse disacrimination.”

    And while “cronyism” and “nepotism” have negative connotations, hiring decisions on such basis occasionally may make make good business sense.

    How about the more positive term “enhancing one’s social and business network”? With all the emphasis on social networking lately, this sounds much more positive.

    To illustrate: Suppose I have a chance to hire a less qualified employee for my law firm who happens to be the family member/friend of one of another lawyer I really want to have as a good referral source? Perhaps the prospect of increased business more than offsets the damage from lesser qualifications.

    (Just a little Saturday afternoon devil’s advocacy . . .)

  2. George,

    Haven’t there been some disparate impact cases in which a plaintiff (or class of plaintiffs) successfully argued that cronyism had become a proxy for race discrimination?

  3. Excellent point, Donald. The cases I know of challenged word-of-mouth hiring of friends and relatives.

    When the existing workforce is nondiverse, such a hiring policy will tend to perpetuate racial imbalance. It will typically exclude minorities from consideration. It may then be impossible to legally justify the policy as meeting the strict test of business necessity, once such disparate impact is shown.

    This means it can be found unlawful under the disparate impact method of proof, which does not require discriminatory intent.

    In tension with this legal concern is the opinion of many HR and recruiting experts that word-of-mouth and employee referrals are one of the best ways of finding qualified candidates.

    Reasonable compromise: establish a good friends-and-family referral system AND engage in other recruiting efforts that expand the applicant pool to include more minorities.

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