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Whistleblower Claims
is nepotism illegal in federal workplace

The word “nepotism” refers to favorable treatment towards an individual in the workplace because of their familial connection.

Few people know what nepotism looks like, and even fewer know about the legality of nepotism in the federal workplace.

This is completely understandable, given that nepotism is not as well-known as race or age discrimination.  Nonetheless, it’s vital you understand the truth about nepotism because it can have destructive effects on your career. 

Clients occasionally ask us, Is nepotism illegal in the workplace? The answer is yes.

In this article, we’ll discuss the official definition of nepotism, as well as the applicable federal employee nepotism laws that prohibit it.

If you think you or a loved one are experiencing nepotism, contact our talented federal employment attorneys today. 

Nepotism: Definition and Applicable Federal Employee Nepotism Laws

The word nepotism originates from the Latin word for nephew. 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b) defines nepotism as the appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement of any individual who is a relative to a civilian position within the federal government. 5 U.S.C. § 3110(a)(3) defines a relative as any of the following: 

  • Parent,
  • Child,
  • Sibling,
  • Uncle or aunt,
  • First cousin,
  • Nephew or niece,
  • In-law,
  • Stepbrother or stepsister,
  • Stepparent,
  • Stepchild, and
  • Half-brother or half-sister.

Although grandparents and grandchildren are technically left out of this definition, advocating for appointing them to a federal position would likely run afoul of ethics regulations. 

The chief law that applies to nepotism is the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which is the foundational law for the modern federal civil service.

However, it is also prohibited by 5 C.F.R. § 2635. This statute outlines the standards of ethical conduct for federal employees.

Finally, 18 U.S.C. § 208 renders nepotism a criminal act in situations where a federal official participates in a matter in which they have a personal financial interest.

Is Nepotism Illegal in Government Workplaces? 

To put it simply, yes. Nepotism is indeed illegal in government workplaces. The laws and regulations are clear and firm in their stance against the practice.

This prohibition aims to uphold the integrity of the federal civil service. It further attempts to guarantee that employment decisions are predicated on a person’s merit and qualifications rather than their familial connections. 

It’s also worth noting that nepotism is a prohibited personnel practice. That means that any employee who witnesses nepotism in a government space can file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

Filing a complaint makes you a federal whistleblower and protects you from any act of retaliation. 

Nepotism vs. Cronyism

People often confuse nepotism with its equally shady cousin, cronyism. While they’re branches of the same unsavory tree, there are subtle differences between them. Let’s briefly explore the differences.


As we discussed earlier, nepotism is all about family. It takes place when someone in a position of authority in a federal workplace gives preferential treatment to their relatives.

One example would be hiring your brother for a role he’s not quite cut out for. Another example would be promoting a cousin over more qualified candidates. It’s the family ties that bind in nepotism.


Instead of family, cronyism is all about friends and associates. Cronyism occurs when someone in power favors friends or acquaintances, offering them jobs or promotions because of their personal relationships rather than their qualifications.

We’ve all heard the old adage, It’s not what you know, but who you know. Cronyism would be the extreme version of that adage coming to life.

Yet while American legal and ethical standards have always frowned upon nepotism, cronyism has been somewhat more common in this nation’s history. Nonetheless, cronyism is unacceptable under federal ethics standards.

Are You Witnessing Nepotism In Your Federal Workplace? Take a Stand with the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC. 

Whether it takes the form of nepotism or cronyism, favoritism has no place in the federal workplace. Only a person’s merit and performance at work should control their position in the government.

If you think you might be a witness to nepotism in your workplace, take action today. 

Before you take action, it’s prudent to consult with a federal employment attorney. They can help you make sense of what you’re experiencing, confirm whether the behavior is nepotism, and present you with your legal options.

If necessary, a federal employment attorney can help you prepare and file a complaint with the OSC to correct the situation. 

Don’t just trust any law firm to represent you. Instead, go with a firm that is deeply knowledgeable about federal employment issues.

The team at the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D Wersing PLLC, only practices federal employment law.

We won’t make rookie mistakes like other firms. Instead, you can rely on us to provide top-notch legal representation and first-rate customer service.

Call us today or reach out to us on our website to set up your initial consultation.

Author Photo

Aaron Wersing, Attorney at Law

Aaron Wersing is the founder of the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing. Mr. Wersing graduated from the Georgia State University College of Law with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and was the recipient of the CALI Excellence for the Future Award. Mr. Wersing previously attended the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. Mr. Wersing is an active member of his local community. Mr. Wersing acts as a volunteer attorney with Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid organization of the Houston Bar Association. He is also a member of professional legal organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Inns of Court. To reach Aaron for a consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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