This page provides an overview of laws preventing nepotism in Washington State as they apply to local governments, including examples of policies.
Nep-o-tism: Favoritism shown or patronage granted to relatives, as in business. (From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition)
In the State of Washington, all local governments have the authority to establish rules and regulations governing their internal operation. Generally, it might be considered unfair to refuse to consider hiring or retaining an employee simply because of a degree of relationship with another person employed by that agency. However, the Washington Administrative Code, WAC 162-16-250, allows treating a current employee’s spouse differently if there is a "business necessity" to do so. A “business necessity" might arise, for example, if one spouse would have authority or practical power to supervise, appoint, remove, or discipline the other, or where one spouse would have the responsibility to audit the work of the other.
A number of Washington municipalities prohibit nepotism in some degree. In order to assist other municipalities considering such a regulation, several nepotism ordinances and policies are set out below.
For the most part, state law does not address nepotism, except to the extent that three labor-related statutes prohibit discrimination based upon marital status. See RCW 49.60.180, 49.60.190, and 49.60.200.
WAC 162-16-250 sets out the general rule against discrimination because of a marital relationship. However, the regulation also allows different treatment of an employee’s spouse if there is a “business necessity” to do so. A "business necessity," as discussed above, might arise if a spouse were to supervise, appoint, remove, or discipline the other or where one spouse would have the responsibility to audit the work of the other.
Examples of Policies and Codes
Local governments may develop their own policies concerning nepotism, tempered only by the state laws against discrimination. Here are a few examples of such policies.
- Anacortes Personnel Policy 204 (2021) – Sets out rules for hiring/retention of immediate family members
- Ellensburg Personnel Policies Manual Sec. 3.6 (2016) – Based upon business necessity, includes policy for change in circumstances
- Olympia Anti-Nepotism Policy – City will not hire relatives of current employee if one of them would have authority over the other, be responsible for evaluating their work, or other circumstances exist that would place the relatives in a situation of potential conflict between the city's interest and their own
- Spokane Valley Municipal Code Sec. 2.50.035 – Prohibits employment of family members where one family member has the authority to supervise or audit the work of another family member.
- Tacoma Municipal Code Sec. 1.24.725 – Employment of immediate family members not allowed if one member would have practical, authority to appoint, supervise, evaluate or discipline the other
- Vancouver Employee Ethics Policy (2008) – Provides a one-page description of the nepotism policy with guidelines in a Q&A format
- Snohomish County Code Sec. 3A.12.050 – County to avoid practice or appearance of nepotism and employment of spouse or close relative, if business necessity exists.
- Thurston County Personnel Rules and Policies (2012) – See Ch. 5, No. 4. No member of immediate family may be employed in same office or department as current employee or board member, but with exceptions.
- Yakima County Nepotism Policy (2014) – Provides discussion of various possible scenarios when nepotism might apply, including the situation where persons both currently employed by the county marry one another.