88

We are a small organisation (50+ people). Recently an employee was fired. Events leading to her termination escalated quickly and everything happened very fast (within 1-2 days). Obviously, she did not leave on a good note.

She was fired on basis of performance and she had some complaints with the team as well. (However, I am not exactly sure how things turned bad so fast). There were no indication (at least externally) that something was wrong. She was enjoying herself and was part of organising team in Christmas party few weeks back.

A few weeks before she was fired (in good times), she referred her spouse for a role in completely different team. Nothing happened on her spouse's application in the meantime. We did not hear from the spouse as well. After she was fired, her spouse began following up with us frequently asking for a chance to interview. The timing is very suspicious but his profile is actually very impressive. The hiring manager, unaware that he is the spouse of fired employee, was seriously considering his application.

Now when they decided to call him for interview, HR became involved and they immediately notified the hiring manager of the situation. We are not sure how to deal with this. Should we interview him at all? Should we mention firing of his spouse and, if so, at what point? Should we be prepared for the possibility that he is persisting about the interview now to vent his anger or "take revenge" in some twisted way?

My advice to the hiring manager is give the guy a chance but, before interviewing him in person, put him on a phone call (along with HR) and ask him directly if he has any grudges about his wife being fired and how would he handle this history if he was to work for our company now.

However, I would like to hear other opinions on this matter.

Edit: The candidate in question is already currently working at a decent company at a decent role. So from financial perspective, they may not be desperate for this job.

  • Is your area starved for suitable candidates? Or is there a comparatively good-sized selection for this role? – Criggie Jan 4 at 21:49
  • @StephenDiMarco: Identity of the spouse is not the same as "marital status". Many companies have anti-nepotism policies that forbid having two members of the same family in the same department/group, to avoid creating a conflict of interest where the employee chooses between a benefit to their employer or their family member. A potential conflict of interest also exists in the situation described here. – Ben Voigt Jan 7 at 2:46
  • Is there any chance that he could sue you for discrimination if you break off the interview process after dismissing his wife, despite him being otherwise qualified? Even if he can't win, might you pay him to make it go away? – Mawg Jan 7 at 10:11
  • @BenVoigt except they would not both be working there... – jwenting Jan 7 at 11:51
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    Tread carefully here, check your legal advisor as well. You are probably treading into territory that is not allowed under US law anyway in terms of what you can and cannot ask a candidate about personal issues. The top answer seems to have it phrased best. – Bill Leeper Jan 7 at 18:58
126

While I admit I'd be skeptical that employing this person would be tenable (for either of you really) it's not impossible. Married couples aren't one entity and the spouse may be a thorough professional and able to compartmentalize the situation. So I'd say it's worth interviewing them (assuming that you would if the spousal connection didn't exist).

I would say that it's worth addressing the point in the interview though:

I'm sure you're aware that [name of fired employee] is no longer with the company. Do you anticipate that causing any issues were you to be employed here?

And see what their response is.

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    Of course that interview question could be rather awkward if the spouse hasn't communicated their termination :D – Peter M Jan 4 at 14:34
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    @PeterM Possibly.. this is why I worded it as "no longer with the company" that way if the spouse has given an "alternative" narrative such as leaving mutually or by their own choice to save face at home then you aren't dropping them in it directly. If they haven't mentioned leaving at all..well that might get "interesting" but I don't think it would be reasonable to have to consider accommodating the possibility of such a situation. – motosubatsu Jan 4 at 14:41
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    "married couples aren't one entity" +1. The candidate may not have picked his spouse for her managerial skills. From candidate's POV he may have wanted to avoid working in same organization with his spouse, and is happy to proceed now that that issue is no longer present. – Nathan Hughes Jan 4 at 17:44
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    Also, since your departure with the initial employee, the financial situation might be a bit more dire in their family, and the increased interest could be making up for that shortcoming. Even if he's working already, having a sudden drop in income as a family may be painful and the offer he suspects he can get might be better than where he's currently at. – Anoplexian Jan 4 at 21:12
  • @Fattie unlikely to be sure, but it's not impossible. I 've seem people manage with worse. – motosubatsu Jan 5 at 22:29
39

One person in a couple loses a job, another becomes more active in seeking a job. I don't see anything suspicious about that. For all we know he could be pursuing opportunities with several companies.

Also, the idea in an earlier edit that he may be getting in contact with the company to vent out his anger or take revenge is a very long way from being established. We don't know his motives - it might just be to find work.

The approach you're taking seems reasonable - if he appears to fit the job description, I would arrange an interview. It would be fair to ask how he would handle his wife's history with the company, but asking directly if he bears a grudge would be unlikely to be useful - anyone with vindictive motives will not be inclined to answer honestly.

It's something to bear in mind during recruitment, but a company whose recruitment process didn't weed out those who intended to do the company harm would have a bigger problem than with one specific couple.

  • I wanted to mention that aspect too, even just looking at it from a financial point of view, they have lost a income stream, it makes sense that the job hunt would intensify – J.Doe Jan 4 at 15:52
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    You are right and I did think about it too. I forgot to mention that the guy is already working. So not that he is currently jobless. I will edit my query and include this information. – PagMax Jan 4 at 16:09
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    @PagMax Already working doesn't really preclude anything. At least in some sectors, just changing jobs can frequently net +20% to wages (not even necessarily taking a promotion, just moving to a different job with more experience); loss of income would be a motivator to rekindle some of those job hunts (especially ones that are already in-progress, and thus less effort than starting from scratch - he was evidently not fully happy before, and now has more incentive to actively search). – Delioth Jan 4 at 22:25
  • @PagMax - nice edit to the question. I've tweaked the answer to (I hope) align with the latest. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Jan 5 at 10:40
24

Cancel the interview and don't have anything more to do with this candidate, nothing good can come from it!

(Edit: I agree with @reirab you should immediately contact a lawyer and ensure the way you terminate this process complies with local legal requirements.)

Given the circumstances there is no way this relationship can succeed - even if the applicant is genuine there will be immense suspicion over every mistake, especially if it's a big one. If they're not genuine then they can do incredible harm to your company.

There is no question or interview technique that will properly allow you to discern their motives for continuing with the process.

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    In the UK what you're describing (refusing to interview this person because they're married to someone you consider 'undesirable') would be unlawful and could result in hefty fines; acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1831 – Richard Jan 4 at 21:42
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    @Richard - I believe you are mis-applying that law, it is not the fact of their marital status but the relationship with an employee who left in difficult circumstances. – Alan Dev Jan 4 at 22:02
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    @AlanDev - That would also be covered: employmentcasesupdate.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed10625 - "The EAT held that the ET was wrong to hold that the protection under s3 of the SDA as amended of married persons does not include protection of a person who is discriminated against on the ground that she is married to a particular person. Although the respondent did not discriminate against married people in general, the claimant was entitled to claim that her unfavourable treatment was marriage-specific and specific to that marriage.". I'm pretty sure this ruling would be applicable. – Richard Jan 4 at 22:04
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    I would probably caveat this answer (or, really, any answer to this question) with "talk to an employment lawyer in your jurisdiction immediately before doing anything else," but, otherwise, I really have to agree with this answer. Hiring this person at this point in time just sounds like all kinds of a bad idea. If it were, say, 5 or 10 years down the road, that might be a different matter, but hiring someone immediately after the company just fired their spouse seems like it would end badly for at least one of the company or the employee (and quite likely both.) – reirab Jan 5 at 7:16
  • As usual with this sort of thing, reasons employers may reject a candidate are often not the same as the reasons given. If you think a candidate might be a terrible cultural fit, for example, you say, "We have decided not to proceed with your application." Same is true for basically any reason you reject a candidate. This (intentionally) shields the employer from liability by being vague. – Kirk Woll Jan 6 at 21:38
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Step 1: Talk to a Lawyer

I'm a bit surprised that I haven't already seen this in another answer, but the very first thing I would recommend doing in this situation is have whoever is in charge of this situation talk to an employment lawyer in your jurisdiction immediately in order to understand what sorts of employment laws might affect your options in this case. I would do this before proceeding with anything else, including the interview. Certain interview questions might be banned. Taking certain factors into account when making an employment decision might be banned. Only a lawyer in your jurisdiction can competently answer this for you.

I'm not one who is normally quick to encourage lawyering up, but this is a situation where I would absolutely want to do that before anything else if I were in your company's shoes.

Personally, I would be extremely hesitant to hire someone in this situation. It just really does not seem like it would end well for the company and also likely wouldn't be good for the couple. But before I made this decision, I would absolutely want to talk to a local employment lawyer about it and make sure I know exactly what the legal restrictions on my options for handling the case were.

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    Or another variation - get HR (not recruiters) looped in. They tend to be more familiar with the legalities and risk, and would pull in a lawyer as needed. – selbie Jan 5 at 10:29
  • Yes, this is exactly correct. – Fattie Jan 5 at 15:13
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    @selbie True, but HR at a small, 50-person company tends to be quite small. In the case of the similarly-sized company I work for, it's one person, who also happens to be the accountant. – reirab Jan 5 at 19:11
17

Obviously, some of this depends on the reason for termination.

As with any interview, there's no obligation on either side to continue with the job offer, so use the interview to gauge whether it's a real candidate or a bunny-boiler. People who have an axe to grind will usually have the wheel turning.

Even then, you're covered by the probation period should he interview well and then turn nasty.

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    "bunny-boiler"? – TankorSmash Jan 4 at 16:29
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    @TankorSmash I believe that Snow is making a reference to Glenn Close's insane character in Fatal Attraction who famously broke into the house of the man that spurned her after an affair and boiled his daughter's pet rabbit – Kevin Jan 4 at 16:34
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    urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bunny%20boiler covers it surprisingly well. Basically a stalker-ex with an axe to grind. – Criggie Jan 4 at 21:46
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    Obviously, some of this depends on the reason for termination. Huh? This is not at all obvious to me. It's her husband who is applying, not her. – Ben Crowell Jan 5 at 19:19
  • What if turn nasty means you lose a vital customer and your company goes under? There is no advantage and enormous risk in hiring this guy. – Oscar Bravo Jan 7 at 14:26
8

There are a couple of basic ethical precepts that apply here:

  • When we make hiring decisions, they're based on the candidate's qualifications, not on irrelevant personal characteristics such as who they're related to.

  • People shouldn't suffer the consequences of other people's actions.

Examples of this kind of thing are that people frown on nepotism, and the US constitution prohibits corruption of blood as a punishment for treason.

Based on these principles, I think the default should clearly be to interview the guy and seriously consider his application just as you would anyone else's. If you're thinking of deviating from this default, then (a) make sure you have an articulable reason that addresses the ethical issues (not just some utilitarian justification) and (b) talk to a lawyer. People can sue you if you discriminate against them in hiring, and only a lawyer can tell you whether this discrimination is illegal under your locality's laws. (E.g., I believe in California this type of discrimination would not be illegal, because the guy isn't a member of a protected class, but I could be wrong, so don't trust my opinion, ask a lawyer.)

Should we be prepared for the possibility that he is persisting about the interview now to vent his anger or "take revenge" in some twisted way?

To me, this does not constitute an articulable reason that addresses the ethical issues. It's not reasonable to hypothesize that this guy is going to leave his current job so that he can come to work for you on some kind of kamikaze mission of revenge. All of this would clearly not be in his own best interests, and it's not reasonable to attribute irrational, self-destructive motivations to someone who is simply applying for a job. People generally apply for a job because they want the job.

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    If you fired the wife as your personal financial planner for fraud/embezzlement/whatever, would you do as you advise OP and consider hiring the husband as your financial planner with no bias whatsoever due to the relationship with your previous financial manager? – Jim Clay Jan 6 at 2:09
  • And honestly, if you say “yes” I won’t believe you. – Jim Clay Jan 6 at 2:10
  • @JimClay: The situation you describe is apples-oranges. There are thousands of financial planners in the city where I live, and hiring one rather than the other is like deciding to go to one restaurant rather than another. I can decide not to patronize a certain restaurant because I don't like the fact that the waiter parts his hair on a certain side, and I can't be sued for employment discrimination. If your point is that I might behave differently if it were my own skin in the game rather than my employer's, then you could pose a hypothetical where only that variable is changed. – Ben Crowell Jan 6 at 15:02
  • They're probably trolling to get a response that he is not considered due to being affiliated with his spouse. So don't give that response. Don't mention that in the in-house emails either. don't mention it on the in-house chats. As that is easy revenge, easy money, if you mention to him in some way that you're not hiring him on basis that have nothing to do with his qualifications. – Lassi Kinnunen Jan 7 at 5:09
3

If in America, speak to the DOL and/or your legal counsel. If you deny interviewing a qualified candidate due to discrimination based on their affiliation with another previous employee, that may be construed as a personal act of discrimination by the company, and they could potentially file suite.

Since you are actually considering not doing so for that exact reason, you had better address this immediately to make sure you aren't in the wrong, if this candidate was practically a shoe-in for the position, which should to be the case, then, they may actually have a reason to pursue your organization, even if there is no valid case, there may be enough to bring to court, in order to try to force a settlement.

Edit:

My wife (a social worker) explained that you MUST NOT speak to him about his wife in any way, as this violates employee confidentiality, and that HR should be keenly aware of this and present on the call to protect you from speaking about that situation as its required to be completely confidential to the employee.

Furthermore she indicated that if the interviewee brings it up you need to say she worked there but you aren't't able to discuss the details about former employees and hand it over to HR if pressed, as its their job to protect you from being exposed.

Also she said it if there was any pattern of intentional sabotage after the employee were brought on board that would be grounds for firing any employee and possible legal action against them.

Finally she agreed that if this reason is not a valid one to use to evaluate whether they are fit for the position.

-now, I'm not a lawyer, but you seem to have already placed tourselves in a disadvantaged position by considering his relationship to a previous employee and making it a consideration, if a lawsuit alleged that they had reason to believe this was a factor in their not getting an interview they could file suite and request any correspondence employees made about this, in which case you have the most to lose as the company would likely disavow you being an agent of theirs in making these inquiries and providing the advice to colleagues.

So, again, speak with your HR, let them know your concerns and they you reached out to that hiring manager, and as not all HR are trained social workers and up to date on all DOL guidlines, you should get your company social worker and Lawyer to assist them in making sure you properly handle tbs legal obligations to all parties.

Your most important thing to do is distance yourself from affecting the process negatively or you could be personally liable.

most importantly, as said by others, consult a PERSONAL Lawyer specializing in labor before doing anything, you may want to discuss doing something along the following lines with them:

It may be all you can do, is damage control now. Ie. shut your mouth to the manager, speak to HR hiring person and social worker and ask to bring in the staff legal counsel, and hope that they weren't planning to not interview the person based on his association with the former employee.

You can take notes, and if they indicated they were planning such a thing, you could make sure to note that down, then let them know they may be opening themselves to legal trouble if they do so, and let them sort it out.

This way, if they do try to make a decision based on that relationship, and try to blame it on you, you can show that you spoke with them on such and such date and they were already looking to make that desision, and you informed them that was not the proper course and advised them to look into it if they try to make it your personal legal matter. The company would be trying to get out of suite by pushing liability to you if they can, but the plaintifs would rather get the deep pockets of the company than your personal bank account.

Likewise if the company tries to fire you as part of that you may havs grounds for wrongful termination at that point.

And most importantly, as said by others, consult a PERSONAL Lawyer specializing in labor before doing anything!

Edit:

I want to be clear I am saying you should only be concerned about a civil law suite because you have indicated that you interjected into the process, offering viewpoints, (even-though pro-interview viewpoints), and indicated that there isn't a clear guidance coming from the HR, in fact HR should not have informed the hiring manager of the relationship the candidate had with the previous employee, but should have stated that they needed to be present for all interviews with that candidate only, as by informing the hiring manager they are breaking the employee confidentiality. So actually it sounds like they may have opened grounds for a civil suit against them if I understand you correctly, and in either case, your involvement opes you up to grounds for a civil lawsuit.

I'm not even saying it would be a GOOD lawsuit, but the standards for Civil cases are much relaxed from criminal cases, and you should do what you can to make sure that if such a suite were to come forward you couldn;t be fired with cause or dragged into or perhaps even scapegoated onto.

As regardless of the motivations of the candidate, if they are string along and get the impression that they are being discriminated against due to their wife they may sue, and for a civil case you can get a lot further based on what you believe happened than with a criminal case.

and so, again, I must say, contact a personal lawyer and discuss this matter with them and ask about if you should bring them in to speak to your HR's hiring Person (and HR Social Worker if not the same person), or maybe avoid that conversation entirely.

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    "you seem to have already placed tourselves in a disadvantaged position by considering his relationship to a previous employee". That's of course not true. If wondering whether X is legal is itself illegal, then wondering about that in turn would also be illegal, and you quickly end up in a meta-morass where almost all thoughts are illegal. By logical necessity, it's always legal to wonder whether X is legal. – MSalters Jan 7 at 13:49
  • While I used You and yourselves to mean the OP, as I don't know if they are a man or a woman or if any other parties who are non HR etc are involved, they have disadvantages themselves from the perspective of avoiding a potential lawsuit by involving themselves with the process needlessly. And, to be clear, I am not claiming the OP would face criminal charges, I am speaking of the potential to be sued in civil court, where standards of evidence and determination of liability are much more relaxed compared to criminal litigation. I'll clarify that a bit, as it seems to have been confusing. – Ben Personick Jan 7 at 17:52
1

Inviting the spouse of a fired employee invites drama. Don't do it because it:

  • Fouls the mood at work functions where families or spouses are invited
  • Undercuts the authority of the manager who terminated her
  • Queues up no end of liability for the company when a candidate with no such baggage need be considered from an external hire.
0

Have the candidate submit, in writing, a conflict of interest reporting/disclosure form.1

If they don't accurately disclose their family member's recent employment status, you have an iron-clad case for rejecting them (falsification of an employment application).

If they do, you are set up to ask the kind of uncomfortable questions about how to ensure that the potential conflict doesn't become a conflict-in-fact.


1 Actually you should add this to your hiring process so it applies to all candidates. You wouldn't necessarily find out when one of your clients or suppliers has an ex-employee that holds a grudge, but their family members could be equally as dangerous as if the ex-employee formed worked directly for you. So you want to make a practice of identifying external financial entanglements of applicants.

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    This wouldn't be normal or even legal in many places. In Finland for some jobs you can ask the police/state to provide a security check, but for most jobs even that wouldn't cover your ex's, your wife and so forth. Basically usually you can only ask such questions for high up executive positions. Besides, the whole thing that the person applying for the job is trying to achieve is to get disqualified on the basis that his spouse used to work there - and to get something in writing/email to prove that. You would be just giving it on a platter for them by asking about personal life. – Lassi Kinnunen Jan 7 at 5:18
  • @LassiKinnunen: You're not asking about personal life. You're asking about financial entanglements of the applicant and immediate family, which may create a conflict of interest. If you don't think it's normal, try searching for "conflict of interest reporting form" or similar. – Ben Voigt Jan 7 at 5:20
  • @LassiKinnunen: Besides, the disqualifying thing is if the applicant doesn't disclose the conflict of interest. If they do, you discuss mitigations (and input from a lawyer will probably be helpful here) – Ben Voigt Jan 7 at 5:22
  • Do you have a link to conflict of interest report form that's not related to receiving funding, publishing scientific papers, being a board member or executive or such? Like, you can't just ask if the applicant owns stocks or some of their family owns either for most jobs. I've had Security Clearance check performed on me by the Finnish state though - but the company doesn't get to see what it's based on, protecting privacy from them. The guy is fishing for documents to prove that he is disqualified based on the spouse and this would just potentially work towards that. – Lassi Kinnunen Jan 7 at 6:03

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