I work for a large company and my direct supervisor has brought a vendor onboard who is the fiancé of a fellow workmate of mine. Is this ethical?

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    Yes. This sort of stuff happens all the time. Unless you provide us more details, it is impossible to tell if this was unethical in any sort of way. – Shadowzee Sep 11 '19 at 6:06
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    Is it ethical in what way? What's your concern? What breach of ethics do you imagine it to be? – joeqwerty Sep 11 '19 at 11:40
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    Would it be ethical to refuse to do business with someone simply because they happen to be in a relationship with one of your employees? – Phil Sep 11 '19 at 13:22

Yes - as the direct supervisor and the fiance have no direct relationship

  • My workmate is receiving the shared financial gain from the business that his fiancé is getting from our company. The only way my supervisor knew about this vendor was from the fellow workmate. – Revilo Sep 11 '19 at 5:18
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    Does your direct supervisor make any money - either directly or indirectly? – Ed Heal Sep 11 '19 at 5:22
  • Well I guess that is why I believe this is a conflict of interest. It would be so easy for that to happen and of course no would know if it was! – Revilo Sep 11 '19 at 5:25
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    Do you have any evidence that happened? Also, does it matter to you? – Ed Heal Sep 11 '19 at 5:49

who is the fiancé of a fellow workmate of mine. Is this ethical?

Is the vendor not coming via a standardized process (since large company)? does your fellow workmate interact with/influence the vendor for price negotiations etc? Does either business make losses because of the arrangement due to the personal relation?

If answer is no to all such questions above, then this is completely ethical. Large companies have large number of people, and it can be commonplace for personal relationships to exist between people on opposite sides. Unless your company expressly prohibits such arrangements.

However, there can be clear conflict of interest here in case evidence points otherwise.

  • A conflict of interest requires that there is bias on the part of the decision maker. For that to exist, the workmate would have to have undue influence over their supervisor. – Julie in Austin Sep 11 '19 at 12:53

We don't have enough information to say if it's ethical or not.

At the most basic level, there isn't a problem. The company needed a service, so they looked for a vendor to provide that service, and found one. Nothing unethical about that!

Ethics in a situation like this are more about whether or not the company is getting a bad deal to hire this particular vendor rather than another.

  • If the fiancée does a poor job, but was hired because your workmate pushed for her over anyone else, that's a problem: presumably the company wants a certain degree of quality, and the personal relationship has deprived them of it.
  • If the fiancée does an acceptable job, but charges more than similar vendors in the area and only got the contract because of the personal relationship, that's a problem: the company presumably doesn't want to overpay for anything, and doing so deprives them of the opportunity to spend the money more effectively.
  • If the supervisor hired the fiancée only because they want to cater to your workmate (for whatever reason), that's a problem: the activities and incentives in the workplace are operating as "side deals", where requirements and decisions are made for secret reasons and presented otherwise.

The plain facts of the situation, as related to us here, don't really indicate anything. It's like seeing someone walk down the street with $100 in their hands. They might have mugged someone for it, which would be a morally bad thing. They might have found it on an otherwise empty street, which would be a morally inert thing. They might have done an honest day's work and been paid in cash, which would be a morally fine thing.

That a situation could potentially engender unethical behavior doesn't necessarily make the situation itself unethical (though there are some cases where even the appearance of possibly unethical behavior is a problem, we don't know if that's the case here).

  • Good answer. I'd add couple of things in the list. 1) if person making the decision has conflict of interest (and didn't recuse themselves) or 2) if the decision has been affected by unethical ways (corruption). In both cases the company could still be getting fair deal, but still the overall scenario would be unethical. – Sopuli Sep 11 '19 at 19:03

It depends.

In my experiences, large companies have a vendor management process. They maintain lists of approved and vetted vendors and the types of work those vendors are approved for. This process would include things like identifying the products or services the vendor supplies, a business justification for the need, a risk assessment to determine if the vendor is likely capable of providing the products or services at the level needed, how support will be provided if there are questions or concerns, and a rationale for the suitability of the vendor. If there are multiple possible vendors or for riskier products or services, a more formal decision analysis process may also be required. Exactly what is entailed depends on the company and what the vendor is providing.

If your company has a vendor management process defined and it was appropriately followed, the vendor that was selected should be selected so based on their qualifications and ability to meet the demands of the company and this would be documented somewhere. If the process was not followed, then that is a possible concern that could raise questions, including why the process was circumvented and if there is any unethical behavior surrounding it.

The only possible ethical concerns is if the supervisor is aware of the relationship before or during the vendor selection process and there are some sort of benefits. However, this could have been disclosed and reviewed during vendor selection and was determined to not be a concern based on the relationship and products or services being supplied.

Personally, I wouldn't be too concerned unless the vendor was unqualified or underqualified compared to alternatives, there was some kind of harm to the business (the vendor was being significantly overpaid for their products or services), or there was clear evidence of favors due to the relationships involved. If I observed any of these, then I would consider raising my concerns to the appropriate people.


Nepotism is really a form of networking, which is possibly the most common way jobs are obtained. True, when the closeness of a relationship increases beyond basic networking, it's rarely viewed positively by most anyone near that relationship, but it's not necessarily unethical.

Nepotism does have the opportunity to seed dissent due to situations like the newcomer instantly being on better footing than most any other might be, potentially even better than the existing team members. So it does come with some risks.

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