Nepotism

Many families have a strong tradition of public service and it is common for two family members to serve the same public agency or municipality. However, the Ethics Law forbids public officials or employees from authorizing or using a public position to secure “public contracts” – including a public job – for a member of their family. Therefore, public officials and employees are prohibited from using their public position to directly hire, or to secure the hire, of a family member. In fact, in the state of Ohio, nepotism is a fourth degree felony.

Public agencies are required to conduct all hiring activity in a fair, open and impartial manner because it’s the law, and also because it truly is the right thing to do. Giving precedence or advantages to family members in public hiring is unfair to other applicants who may be equally or even more qualified.

The day may come when your loved one applies for a government job somewhere in Ohio; the Ethics Law ensures that he or she gets a fair chance at that job just as much as those applicants who have relatives working in that office.

For purposes of the Ohio Ethics Law, a public official or employee’s “family” includes parents, grandparents, children of any age, grandchildren, spouse, or siblings (regardless of where these family members reside). Therefore, public officials or employees cannot participate in these hires even if their family members live in other households.

A public official or employee also cannot hire anyone to whom he or she is related by blood or marriage (aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and in-laws) and who is also residing in the same household with the official or employee.

Public officials or employees are required by law to completely remove themselves from participating in any way in the hiring process if a family member is competing for a public job. The public official or employee may not, in any way, use his or her position to influence anyone to hire a family member.

In other words, not only can the public official or employee not directly hire a family member into a public job; he or she also cannot recommend or otherwise use his or her connection to the hiring authority to get a job for a family member. The official or employee would also be prohibited from calling other public officials or employees and asking them to hire a relative.

If a public servant’s family member is lawfully hired by a public entity, without the public servant’s participation in the hire, the Ethics Law continues to limit the actions of the public official or employee. The public servant cannot be the family member’s direct supervisor or participate in any decisions on matters that affect a family member’s employment, such as raises, promotions, and performance evaluations.

  • A member of city council is prohibited from voting to hire one of her family members, even if the interview process and selection was handled by another city official or employee.
  • An elected county office holder, such as a sheriff or recorder, is the final hiring authority for her office. Her family members cannot be hired by her office.
  • A school district superintendent is required to nominate many school district employees before they can become district employees.
  • A school district superintendent’s family members cannot be hired by her district.

Other considerations?

Even when a public official or employee’s family member works for the same agency, there are some matters in which the current public servant can participate. Within some limits, an official is not prohibited from acting on:

  1. A union contract affecting a family member;
  2. Matters that affect a class of employees that includes a family member; or
  3. General budget appropriations for a family member’s department.

For more information on these issues, please review the Ethics Commission’s nepotism fact sheet.

When an official’s spouse or parent is employed by the public agency she serves, and the official is covered under health insurance provided by the agency to her spouse/parent, there is an additional restriction. Although the official is not prohibited from receiving the health insurance coverage, she is prohibited from taking any action to approve the union contract if it includes health insurance benefits and she is covered under those benefits.

One question that often arises is whether or not the statute applies differently if the family member applying for a public job is under the age of 18. This question is often raised regarding summer hires, such as those in Parks and Recreation programs or high school internships.

In general, the Ohio Ethics Law prohibits minor children of public servants from obtaining a job with the same agency, municipality or office as their parents who are current public officials or employees.

The only way in which an official’s minor child can work for the same agency is if the official can demonstrate four things:

  • The hiring process was fair and open;
  • Broad opportunity to apply were provided for qualified and interested applicants;
  • All qualified and interested applicants who are not related to agency officials or employees have already been hired; AND
  • Vacancies still exist.

Keep in mind that public agencies may have policies or rules that are even more restrictive than the Ethics Law (cannot be less restrictive). Public officials or employees are advised to inquire if more stringent policies or rules exist at their public entities.

While the Ethics Law does not absolutely prohibit relatives from working for the same public agency, questions of fairness and impartiality may arise in such situations. Further, such hires may present the appearance of impropriety to the public, even where the public official fully and completely removes herself from participating in the hiring process, as described above. A public agency may be able to minimize these concerns if the agency conducts all hiring activity in a fair, open, and impartial manner.

Additional Resources