Growth Strategies

Creating a No-Spouse Rule

Can you keep spouses from working together?
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the December 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In the old days, the boss' son or niece could be assured of a job. Now, many companies prohibit nepotism of any kind. Should two employees marry, for example, one will get a pink slip. But are strict anti-nepotism rules enforceable by law?

Some employees have charged that a no-spouse rule violates their constitutional right to marry. But the courts have pointed out that such rules don't keep people from marrying, just from holding a particular job.

Employees have been more successful in the 20 states that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of marital status. For instance, when two massage therapists at the Stouffer Hotel Company (Hawaii) Ltd. Inc. married, the hotel dismissed one of them because of its no-spouse rule. The Supreme Court of Hawaii stated that the employee was fired specifically because he got married. If the two had continued to just live together, he could have kept his job. That counted as illegal discrimination.

When considering an anti-nepotism or no-spouse rule for your business, balance the benefits, such as avoiding favoritism, with the risk of legal challenges or harm to employee morale. Courts are more likely to uphold a reasonable rule, such as one that prohibits employees from supervising their spouses, than a broad one that bans all rela-tives from every department.

Jane Easter Bahls is a writer in Rock Island, Illinois, specializing in business and legal topics.

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