should we fire the relatives of Nazis? — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I am casual friends with a couple who are both teachers at a public high school. One day while catching up, they told me that they found out one of their recently-hired colleagues (“Jane”) is the direct descendant of a Nazi. I don’t know which Nazi, I don’t know how they found out, and I don’t know if the school knew this before Jane was hired. My friends said that Jane did not volunteer this information and has never mentioned it, and she has never shown any support for Nazi views or any kind of hate.

Even though Jane is a pleasant and competent coworker, they both expressed strong discomfort with working with her because of her familial connections and said they wished that the school district would terminate her employment because of it. I asked them if they thought that no one should ever hire Jane because of this, and they said, “I’m not saying that nobody should ever hire her, it just shouldn’t be here.” I disengaged from the conversation at that point, but my sense is that by “here” they meant both a school where teachers have access to children, and the state where they live which is a bit of a hot spot for white supremacy.

Is it legal to fire (or refuse to hire) someone because they’re related to a Nazi? It doesn’t sound like a protected class to me, but on the other hand it seems a bit unfair that someone should be ostracized solely because they’re related to a terrible person. I know you’ve had letters before from people who have relatives who did horrible things; is this the same or does the Nazi aspect take this to a different level?

I am fully in favor of firing Nazis. (I am favor of a bunch of additional things worse than firing for them as well, in both their original incarnations and their modern-day ones.)

But we should not be firing people for being the descendants of Nazis. Or the descendants of slave owners or mass murderers or child abusers or Pol Pot. You don’t deny people employment because of the sins of their ancestors.

Legally, no, “related to a Nazi” is not a protected class. But not only would firing them –or refusing to hire them — be unethical and unfair, it would also open up a can of worms about who else we might decide to fire or not hire because we don’t like something their great-grandparent did. And I’m quite confident that if we looked into everyone’s ancestors, we’d find a whole lot of problems.

And look, I’m a Jew. Would I be uncomfortable finding out a colleague’s grandparent or great-grandparent was a Nazi? Honestly, yeah, probably, until and unless they gave me reason not to. (Other Jews might not; we’re not a monolith.) But “I feel a little uneasy around this person” isn’t anywhere near “and thus they should lose their job.”

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