On this page

Protect Your Business

Request a Consultation with One of Our Advisers Today!

Managing Favouritism in the Workplace

Published October 14, 2019 (last updated February 21, 2023) - NZ Operations Manager

Favouritism in the workplace is the fear of many employees.  And there is no doubt that bad management allows favouritism to flourish.

All employees are entitled to, and expect to be, treated equally. Favouritism can cause employees to feel treated unfairly, and the subject of discrimination.

While it is not best practice, favouritism is not necessarily illegal. There is nothing unlawful about a manager favouring an employee or a group of employees.

Unless, of course, that favouritism is rooted in discrimination or goes against specific laws.

What Is Favouritism in The Workplace?

Favouritism is what it says on the tin – favouring someone or some group in the workplace for reasons outside of their job performance.

A well-known type of favouritism is nepotism. Nepotism means to show favour to family members or friends, and for obvious reasons is commonly found in family-run businesses.

Many successful businessmen’s children take up their parent’s roles in the family business. Sir James Fletcher, Harry Hart and the Whittaker family are examples of this.

Another example of favouritism is when an employee or group of employees is treated differently due to personal characteristics. Treating employees based on personal characteristics can be seen as discrimination.

Favouritism As A Form Of Discrimination

The Employment Relations Act and the Human Rights Act provide all employees in New Zealand protection from discrimination. Personal characteristics protected from discrimination are:

  • age
  • race, colour, national or ethnic origin and beliefs or immigrant status
  • religion or political opinion
  • sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity
  • marital status
  • pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • family or carer responsibilities or status
  • physical or mental disability
  • employment status
  • membership or involvement in a union
  • or if they’re being affected by domestic violence

Managing Favouritism In the Workplace

Here are a few ways to manage favouritism, including how to prevent it. A workplace rife with favouritism fosters low morale, a bad culture and overlooking potential and good performers.

  • Nurture A Professional Environment
    • Protect your workplace from potential favouritism by nurturing a professional environment. Favouritism is a fundamentally unprofessional phenomenon. Foster a serious work focus is the first step in warding off favouritism.
  • Provide A Policy
    • Communicating to your employees and managers (if applicable) your expectations is another great way to protect from favouritism. A policy is the best way to provide this information. Providing a copy to all employees is the clearest and firmest way of communicating your expectations. It is also signals how seriously you take the issue.
  • Offer Training
    • What is and isn’t discrimination is not always intuitive. To prevent favouritism due to discrimination, consider offering training for your staff. During this training session, you can also educate employees of the drawbacks of favouritism.
  • Nip It in The Bud
    • If you see any signs of favouritism sprouting, nip them in the bed. Addressing the problem directly can be difficult, but it can stop any further damage caused by favouritism. It is strongly suggested to investigate and address favouritism if you believe it may be discriminatory.


  • Is Favouritism in The Workplace Illegal?

    Favouritism in the workplace isn’t outrightly illegal. However, if there is discriminatory favouritism then it can be unlawful.

    Under the Employment Relations Act and the Human Rights Act, all employees in New Zealand are protected from being discriminated against due to personal characteristics. Some of these characteristics include race, religion, and sex, among others.

  • Is It Illegal to Treat Employees Differently?

    It is not outrightly illegal to treat employees differently. For example, it is fine for a strongly performing employee to be offered a promotion over other employees.

    However, it is illegal to treat employees differently if it is discriminatory. Discrimination means treating someone differently based on a personal characteristic, e.g. their race, religion or sexual orientation.

  • Is Favouritism A Form Of Harassment?

    Whether or not favouritism is a form of harassment is a case-by-case basis. In some cases, while it is unwelcome, favouritism is not harassment.

    In other cases, favouritism can be considered harassment if its discriminatory or vindictive in nature. For example, putting the spotlight on an employee for the wrong reasons can be considered harassing or bullying the employee.

  • How Can Favouritism Be Prevented In The Workplace?

    Cultivate a professional environment. Favouritism is a very unprofessional behaviour. Set up the workplace to reward professionalism and strong performers.

    Produce a policy document and distribute it to staff. A policy document is the best bet to letting staff know of your expectations. A policy document has the added benefit of telling your staff that you’re serious about the issue.

    Offer training to staff. Favouritism training can educate staff about the dangers of favouritism – poor morale, overlooking of potential and a bad culture. Favouritism training can also cover the important topic of discrimination, bullying and harassment to help prevent it occuring.

  • How should employers treat employees?

    Treat all employees equally

    Treat all employees respectfully

    Treat all employees fairly

    Treat all employees without discriminating against them

    Reward employees only on the basis of the quality of their work

    Be vigilant about any emerging favouritism in the workplace

  • How do you address an unfair treatment at work?

    Investigate the matter and interview staff about it

    Decide and note what, if any, behaviour or actions were unfair

    Discuss the issue with the unfairly treated employee(s) and perpetrator(s) of the treatment

    Attempt a mediation between the two parties, if appropriate (e.g. mediation wouldn’t be appropriate for a
    sexual harassment claim)

    Decide on disciplinary measures, if necessary, against the perpetrator

    Discuss the general issue with the rest of the staff, without breaching confidentiality

    Re-distribute policy & procedures to remind staff

  • How Does Nepotism Affect The Workplace?

    Nepotism can negatively affect the workplace in several ways. Primarily it sets a bad cultural precedent. Employees are either successful because they’re in the family or friends of the manager, or they’re not.

    Nepotism also reduces morale in the office, as employees not part of the in-group will feel less valued. If an employee has received their role due to nepotism, it may foster feelings that the employee didn’t truly “earn” their position.

  • Is nepotism in the workplace illegal?

    Nepotism is not illegal in the workplace. In fact, many businesses are family-run businesses, and it is a business owner’s right to run their business in the best way they see fit.  Depending on the industry, employees may have a duty to disclose family connections, for example to meet regulatory requirements such as anti-bribery and corruption laws.

  • Is preferential treatment in the workplace illegal?

    Preferential treatment overall is not illegal. However, it is illegal if the preferential treatment is discriminatory. That is, a worker is treated differently due to a personal characteristic, such as their race, sexual orientation or religion.

    Preferential treatment such as nepotism or favouritism is also not illegal.

As one of New Zealand’s leading workplace relations specialists, Employsure can assist you if you are faced with issues of favouritism, nepotism or discrimination. Call us today on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

Get Workplace Advice Now

Call Our Team of Expert Advisers Who Will Help You with Your Workplace Questions.

Have a question?

Have a question that hasn’t been answered? Fill in the form below and one of our experts will contact you back.

  • By submitting contact details, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the Terms of Use and the Privacy Policy and I consent to you contacting me about Employsure services. I consent to you using sensitive personal information that you may collect for the purposes of providing your products and services.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Call Now

0800 568 012

Live Chat

Click here