I recommended my sister for a job — and it was a disaster

A reader writes:

I am writing in to you to ask how I can recover my reputation and the trust of the people I work with, vendors and clients after I recommended someone for a job who turned out to be a disaster.

My job was hiring several entry-level and basic positions, no experience or education required. I made the mistake of recommending my older sister. She has no education past grade 10 and she has never held down a job. She has survived on social assistance or illegal criminal stuff, and when she has run out of it or been ineligible she has relied on my parents. They both just retired and wanted my sister out so they could sell their home and move into a retirement apartment building for seniors. I am a hard worker and have never had a bad evaluation and I was trusted when I recommended her for a job.

She was required to dye her hair a natural color, wear a suit, hide her tattoos and piercings, show up on time, and not use her phone during work hours. It worked for a month or so. Then she would show up late, if at all, and not follow the dress code. She came to work with pink hair and dared her boss to do something. She was fired when her boss caught her smoking a joint in the bathroom. In our state, a few ounces is a felony. My sister has a prior conviction and is lucky he did not call the police. She had also used profanities when dealing with clients when all she had to do was answer the phone and transfer the call. After she was fired, she broke in with her ex-boyfriend and stole some computers. Both of them have been arrested, and there is no doubt it was them.

Her boss is angry because she came recommended. My boss told me to keep my head down because the C-suite and executives are all aware of what happened because my sister was not quiet about her bad behavior. She told me I am on thin ice and will not get the promotion I was after because everyone is questioning my judgment. I am angry at my sister. She swore she would behave and not act up. I feel like a moron for believing her. She said she had changed and wanted to be responsible. My parents have already done the move and said they are done supporting her. I am in the same boat. No one bailed her out.

How do I recover the trust of the people at work and the clients and my reputation? Everyone knows she was my sister (same uncommon last name) and that I recommended her. This is a niche industry and I worked hard in the six years I have worked here. It is the only job I have ever had besides my part-time college job. My boss warned me I am in danger of being fired, and no one who works here or our clients trusts me. Word is all over the industry. I will never recommend anyone for a job again no matter who they are, but I want to know how I can salvage things here after what my sister did.

You were wrong to recommend your sister, but this isn’t all on you.

Did your company do any due diligence? Check her background or her references? Surely if they had they would have seen some major red flags there. And even if they’d decided to proceed with her after that because you swore up and down that she had changed, they should have known that they were making a very risky hire, and known that the assurances of a sister are not exactly unbiased and might be rooted more in hope and love than in reality.

I suspect that they didn’t do any due diligence on her because they were going solely on your word. In some ways, that makes this worse for you — they were putting a lot of trust on you to flag any potential issues for them, and if you didn’t fill them in on the, er, caveats that should have been attached to her candidacy, then you did fail them. But they screwed up too — they should have done some investigation of their own before hiring her. And surely her lack of work history should have been a flag for them to probe further.

So they bear some responsibility here as well.

That said, yeah, this was bad judgment on your part. It’s not unreasonable that your manager and others are now questioning your judgment more broadly. Firing you would be an overreaction, but I can see why they’d have serious reservations about trusting your judgment for a while (which does mean that promoting you probably needs to be off the table for now).

That doesn’t make you a terrible person, though. It makes you someone who had blinders on about family stuff, as many people do, and who unfortunately mixed work and family stuff while wearing those blinders and made a really bad decision.

As for how to move forward, the first is to apologize and take responsibility, if you haven’t already explicitly done that. In other words, say something like this to your boss and others at your company who were affected by what happened: “I’m so terribly sorry about this. I had blinders on because she was my sister and I believed she had changed, and I’m mortified by how wrong I was. I never should have recommended her hire, and I’m horrified by her conduct. I understand that this reflects on my judgment, and I’m determined to work to repair your trust in me.”

From there, hopefully a combination of time and you demonstrating hard work and sound judgment from now on will put this behind you. I wouldn’t judge how things are likely to be in the future based on how they are right now in the immediate aftermath. Give it a few months, and see where you are then. If you do good work and work hard to restore people’s trust in your judgment, it’s very possible that time will smooth this over.

If it’s clear six months from now that your company can’t let this go, you may need to move on in order to get away from it. But if your work is otherwise good and it’s clear that you get where you went wrong, it should be possible to put this behind you.

{ 368 comments… read them below }

  1. Vaca*

    It’s very hard to step away from the feelings of obligation we have to our families. I agree with everything A said, but it’s also worth looking into therapy (if you haven’t already).

    1. Psychdoc*

      Therapy is an excellent idea (and not just bc I’m a therapist, teeheehee)! OP and her parents may want to look into something like Al-Anon to get additional support as they stop supporting the sister (which, I think we all agree, is the right call).

  2. WellRed*

    It just kept getting worse. I am glad nobody bailed your sister out. It only further enables her bad behavior. Apologize profusely and keep your head down. Also, look for another job.

    1. Specialk9*

      A really good apology can actually help a lot. Seriously, use the script Alison recommended, and send it up the chain. I know when I’ve been really angry and fixated on how this person harmed or angered me, a good wholehearted apology really knocked me out of that anger loop.

      Also, so very many of us have family with similar problems. We’re in the middle of an epidemic. Personally, I nodded along and was like, oh yeah, that’s just like my drug addict family member, who I love and want to succeed, but so far he seems on the worst possible path, and yes he has flamed out when trusted. And I’m a high performing responsible person, like many family members of addicts, because addiction is everywhere. You’re really not alone.

      But also, you need to build a LOT better walls and boundaries, because in general, the one thing you can trust a current addict to do is be untrustworthy. Al Anon has a good support network for families of addicts, from people who have walked the road.

      1. GreenDoor*

        Same here, Specialk9. We expect that People with Issues will bleed us dry of our money, if they can. But we don’t often think that they can bleed us dry of other important things – like our professional reputations.

        To avoid this problem happening again (because this sister will “want to change” again someday)m it might be helpful for LW to spend some time thinking about where her personal lines are drawn. For me, anything that affects my space, my wallet, or my spouse/kids is off limits. So, were I in LW’s shoes, I would agree to “help” by reviewing her resume….but not recommending her for a job, by helping her with mock interviews….but not hiring her at my own workplace….buying her work appropriate clothes…but not giving her cash to do it herself. That kind of thing. Identifying your boundaries when you’re not under immediate pressure from the Person With Issues can really help you be more firm when your answer needs to be “no.”

        1. Anonymoose*

          Great idea about how to leverage ‘helping’ family members yet still keeping emotional risk as far away as possible!

        2. Mad Baggins*

          This is actually really helpful advice for dealing with manipulative/flaky people in general. I feel like a terrible person for saying no to a friend/family member in need, but I also need to protect myself. But you’ve provided some good examples of how to walk that middle path. Thank you!

  3. voyager1*

    Oh LW I am so sorry. You tried to do right for your family. Honestly I would probably go no contact with sister. I went no contact with a family member because of abuse issues… it is hard but sometimes that is the only thing that gets through to them.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      There are so many people in my family I’ve cut off for exhibiting the same reckless behavior OP’s sister exhibited. I feel no shame – these people are emotional vampires who don’t deserve my time or attention. OP, your sister is who she is. You know that now. Cut her off and keep it moving, and keep doing stellar work at your job. Hopefully, in due time, this will just be an unfortunate blip on your work radar and you can rebound.

      1. Anonymoose*

        Yep, I have to agree with this. I have frozen out folks due to self protection. It has been imperative before, and I would do it again in a heart beat if I thought any family or friend was being abusive despite my request to treat me with respect. You have to be #1 so you can help others. That means understanding what you can risk and what you can’t while still sleeping well at night. Some of us are challenged more than others but it’s not impossible.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Honestly, I think you should probably start putting out feelers for another job at this point. Your work needs to be impeccable and above reproach from here on out, but the fact that your employer is pursuing criminal charges against your sister may be something that you cannot overcome.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Interestingly, I think she might be better off staying and seeing how things are a few months from now. There’s a decent chance this this will die down if she keeps her head down and works hard, but if she leaves now, then this is going to be their final/most dominant impression of her. I’d rather she replace that impression with something better. (That said, if a few months from now, it’s not going away, then I’d agree.)

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        I agree. OP, show them that you made ONE terrible decision that was based very strongly in family ties, and that every other decision you make reflects your otherwise good judgment, and later on I think what people will remember about you is what they remember about YOU — not about your sister. But that’s going to take many months of impeccable performance on your part. A mistake on this order of magnitude takes time and utter consistency to repair your reputation.

        OP, I have so much sympathy for you. I’ve made bad decisions recommending people who weren’t good for the job because I wanted to help a friend, but none of them has flamed out as spectacularly as your sister has done. I understand why you did it, and I feel for you and for how much time it’s going to take you to repair the damage.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Agree – it’s not like this is a situation that’s likely to recur again and again (although clearly OP would never want to venture personal recommendations for friends and family again). If I was the boss I’d be thinking this was likely to be a one-time goof.

          1. Snark*

            But as one-time goofs go, it’s BAD. It’s the kind of one-off that would make most folks wonder what other blind spots a person has in their ethical judgment.

            1. Myrin*

              On the other hand, OP has worked for this company for six years. One would think that other ethical blind spots that could in any way relate to her job would’ve come out at some point during that time.

              1. Snark*

                That’s also a fair point, one I think gives some weight to Alison’s suggestion to ride the wave. Eventually, those six years will get a little more weight than they’re currently being given.

              2. Jadelyn*

                Once things have blown over a little and people are calming back down and getting back to normal, they’ll probably (hopefully) realize that – which I think is why Alison is suggesting OP try to weather this rather than hitting the eject button immediately – but in the heat of something *this bad*, I think it’s understandable that higher ups are more focused on the knee-jerk horror of “she did WHAT?” than the rational, calm “OTOH this is a long-term employee who’s never had issues before.”

            2. Lil Fidget*

              True, but for many many people, their one blind spot is family situations – that’s a pretty normal, forgivable one if you ask me. I agree it was an unfortunate outcome.

              1. Anion*

                Yes, everybody has a family, basically, and knows how those obligations and relationships can cloud judgement. This sucks, but in time I suspect people will cool off a little.

              2. Thursday Next*

                Agreed. It’s a big but completely understandable lapse in judgment. Simply because OP did this for her sister, I wouldn’t assume other ethical lapses–many people do things for immediate family that don’t reflect on their overall behavior.

              3. Mad Baggins*

                I agree. I think a lot of the anger from the company is about what the sister did, but mis-/re-directed at OP. Even if OP made a bad judgment call, once the sting of what the sister did subsides they’ll realize that they didn’t do their due diligence, and that OP put in six years of good work before recommending a family member who said they wanted to work hard. I think they’re unduly blaming the OP’s judgment for what happened and soon they will see that.

          2. INTP*

            I don’t know, based on my experience with chronic enablers of criminal or otherwise toxic family members, I wouldn’t necessarily think “well this will never come up again because she doesn’t have another criminal sister, so we’re good!” I would consider that maybe she’s in an enabling relationship with the sister, in which case I couldn’t trust her not to use bad judgment at work for her sister’s benefit again, because enablers don’t stop because one bad thing happens any more than the people they enable do. She can’t get her another job there, but could be conned out of passwords or keys or an invite into the building for lunch, something like that. IIRC we’ve had letters about this very thing, otherwise good employees that hurt their employers as part of an enabling dynamic.

            (To be clear, it sounds like the OP isn’t one of the enablers, she got conned by her sister and possibly her parents, and this *was* a one-time mistake. I’m just saying that I don’t see “screws over the company to help a toxic family member” as something that would necessarily be seen as a one-time goof.)

            1. Observer*

              Which is why the OP does need to apologize and acknowledge that she made a major error. Enablers rarely see that.

            2. Betsy*

              I just don’t like this whole language of ‘enablers’ and ‘enabling’. It just comes across as judgmental to me. Many people support family members who are facing addiction or trauma, or other difficulties, and while it is important to maintain good boundaries, there can be many situations in which it is fine to give support.

              It just sounds a little bit like pseudopsychology to me.

              1. Isaac*

                Chronic enablers are very real and the negative effects they inadvertently have on others can be very serious, but honestly I’m with you in this context. It’s not helpful to bring to the discussion when there’s so little reason to suspect that OP may actually have an enablement problem.

        2. Artemesia*

          I would be more sympathetic because it was family. It is easy to see how this would happen, but holy cow, the sister really cut a wide swath here. Everything up to the burglary would probably been easily overcome, but that really puts the cherry on top. How difficult to have someone in your own family who would deliberately sabotage you like that.

      2. Lance*

        Also very much agreeing on this point; if LW can avoid leaving on such a sour note, and things at work don’t get worse, I think, for their career’s sake, they should stay. That way, at least, they have a better shot at putting an at least decent work history behind them, along with possible references.

      3. Naptime Enthusiast*

        This is a good point, and I’m sure rumors will spread that she was forced out as well. Like I said below I don’t know if LW’s reputation will ever fully recover from this, but sticking it out and working hard will have its merits.

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I completely understand where you’re coming from. The only reason that I suggested she start putting out feelers is because they already told her that she’s on thin ice.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          That’s what concerns me too. That 1 small “misstep” or such may result in firing. On thin ice is never good.

          1. CM*

            Of course job searching while on “thin ice” will have it’s own drawbacks, like mediocre recommendations.

        2. myswtghst*

          I think it’s reasonable to make sure her resume is in order, LinkedIn is updated, and to keep an eye out for openings that might be a good fit. However, I also think it’s important that she not spend too much time / energy on that, both to ensure she continues to perform well in her current role, and also to wait til this isn’t the top gossip in her niche industry, as it sounds like it might be right now.

      5. Noah*

        I totally agree it makes sense to wait a few months (unless the firing threat seems imminent), but in my experience people rarely come back with a particular employer from such lapses. But rarely isn’t never, and so why not give it a shot? Outside of the current employer, I suspect any industry-wide issue will fade pretty quickly (which is actually another good reason to wait a little while).

      6. serenity*

        I agree with Detective Amy, who said “put out feelers” by the way, she didn’t say you must leave immediately.

        I think the best think for OP to do is start getting her resume ready and seeing what opportunities may be out there for her. I think that’s a wiser move than “wait a few months, and then possibly be blindsided if things go south and the company/coworkers are ready to cut ties permanently”.

          1. serenity*

            Yes, exactly. The key is “prepare”. It would be awful for OP to be blindsided, and not have a backup in place (especially if she wouldn’t get references, or good ones anyway, from this company).

      7. EvanMax*

        My gut feeling here is to do both. Stick it out another 3~6 months so that your last interaction isn’t the debacle with your sister, but also put out some feelers to get yourself out of there once you’ve established a fresh note to leave on.

        It’s not just that the firm made a mistake in it’s hiring practices, it’s that their response to this mistake is apparently that C-level executives are stomping around fuming about your reference, rather than the break-down in the process that caused you to be the only reference.

        Additionally, when you say that customers don’t trust you anymore, has the firm done anything to remind them that you are not your sister (whose only interaction with customers that you mentioned was cursing at them, which makes me wonder if the firm or some employees have gone the opposite way, and raked your name through the mud with clients in the aftermath.)? It’s in the best interest of the firm to make it clear to the clients that whatever negative experience they had with your sister is over, and you are the same wonderful person you’ve been for the last six years still, so if the firm is content to “punish” you with pressure from clients, then that’s an additional sign of dysfunction.

        I’m in mind of a particular past employer of mine where whenever anything went wrong the managing partner looked for an individual to blame other than himself, rather than looking to prevent the situation from occurring again in the future. We had a catastrophic network issue one day, as a direct result of his refusal to budget for a replacement for fifteen year old network hardware, and he was not only angry at the IT department for not somehow preventing the issue without being provided the tools, but ALSO refused to fund any sort of network upgrades after the fact, because the IT department was able to prevent the issue from getting bad enough that it had to be disclosed to clients, so to him that meant that there was no need to spend money.

        If all of the other sort of post-mortem that should be happening with their recruiting and onboarding process is also happening, and you just left that out of your letter, then that is different, but if management’s main response to this breakdown in corporate policies is to scapegoat a 6-year employee with an otherwise great record, then that sounds like a firm where something is just waiting to go wrong all the time.

        1. Specialk9*

          Whoa. You’re magic at the big picture strategic view! I was so focused on the specific OP that I missed the broader implications, but you’re absolutely right. There is much very odd and weird in this scenario, including the hiring process and C-level rage at the individual when the process was broken. Good points.

          (Not to say you shouldn’t learn a really good set of lessons here, OP, but you’ve already done that for work and I’m willing to bet you’re well into that for your family situation.)

        2. RVA Cat*

          As far as references, I’m thinking the OP should reach out to anyone she worked well with in the past 6 years who left the company before everything imploded with her sister.

        3. myswtghst*

          This is so important – it’s not just about having a short term plan to survive the fallout now, but it’s also worth thinking long term about whether this is a company you want to continue to work for. I’ve also been in situations where people were more focused on assigning blame than on preventing the “bad thing” from happening again, and it just wasn’t a productive environment.

        4. boo*

          Yes, I was thinking about this too. The OP shouldn’t have recommended her sister (though I’m also curious what ‘recommended’ means here-there’s a difference between “My sister’s looking for a job and we have that entry-level thing open,” and “My sister is amazing and I sing her praises from on high every morning before I come to work,”) so yes, she is responsible for step 1: the recommendation. If the company went by that, they didn’t know anything else about the sister, okay.

          BUT, once the sister started showing up late, if at all, they knew she was someone who showed up late, if at all.

          Once she started violating the dress code and “daring” her boss to fire her (what? that sounds bad!) they knew she was someone who would violate the dress code and be insubordinate.

          Once she started using profanity with the clients, they knew she was someone who used profanity with the clients.

          My long-winded point is, once she was on the job, the people she was working for had numerous opportunities to see that she was doing a terrible job, long before the bathroom joint/firing/burglary. The fact that they let things go on so long and escalate is NOT the OP’s fault, or indeed something she had any control over at all. She shouldn’t have made the recommendation, but other people in this situation failed the common sense test as well.

        5. Oranges*

          Thank you for pointing out what was “off” about the company’s response. It was bugging me but I couldn’t put words around it.

        6. serenity*

          I find your perspective interesting, but we need to note two things:

          a) The OP likely has little pull to influence the company’s hiring practices more broadly, especially at this point
          b) Telling her the company’s response is tantamount to being a “scapegoat” feels a bit disingenuous and like we’re passing the buck here. Yes, the due diligence sounds non-existent here, but let’s not let OP off the hook entirely for recommending a sibling for a position who had no professional experience and a troubling history of addiction and criminal behavior, and not pausing to consider the outcome here or be transparent about this to the hiring manager(s). That’s on her.

          1. WannaAlp*

            Agreed. OP probably has very little that she could, or should say about the company’s hiring practices. But hopefully it adds a little to her peace of mind and own assessment of her judgement. She wasn’t the only one who made a mistake.

      8. Casuan*

        We all make mistakes & often it’s how we recover that defines us.

        As AAM said, you’re not the only one at fault here. OP, you wanted to believe your sister & that she might change. Most of us have such people in our lives & often we give them the benefit of the doubt until it’s earned or spectacularly abused. I’m sorry you had the latter with such severe consequences.
        Your company also has to restore their reputation from this— not just the company as well as those who didn’t perform due diligence from your recommendation &or badly managed her.
        Lesson learned.

        Along with Alison’s script for an apology, you can best restore your reputation by doing your job as best you can. For the near-future keep professional boundaries at work, by which I mean don’t let yourself get caught in office politics, a colleague’s drama or agree with anyone that Fergus really needs to stop hogging all the pens &or slurp his coffee loud enough for everyone to hear. Nothing in your letter implies that you’re doing this, I’m just using examples of how you should keep focussed on your work. You’re the best judge of these boundaries, you just need to be strict for a while.

        I’m concerned as to how your vendors & clients know about this? Vendors, I can understand. However not so much the clients. It’s one thing for clients to know that the rude person was your sister & it’s another thing for them to know that you recommended her for the job. Unless for some reason your sister gave this news herself, there’s no reason for the clients to know this & it doesn’t reflect well on your company as a whole. If I were your colleague, I’d have much more respect for you if you stayed & showed your work ethic than if you resigned. However, if after a few months you don’t see evidence that you’re being respected then probably you need to move on.

        Whatever you decide, you might want to work on how to present on or respond to questions on this situation because it could come up at in interview or evaluation & if it does, you want to have a kick-ass response that conveys you took responsibility for such a bad judgment call, have learned from this & that you’re so much more than this one bad situation. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a one-liner in case this gets mentioned in a meeting, at a network event, dinner with clients… wherever— for these scenarios you simply need to acknowledge it happened & that you’ve moved on.

        Good luck!

      9. What's with today, today?*

        You could never live this down at my work. Her sister broke in, and criminal charges are being pursued. Every time there is a court proceeding, from indictment to status docket to a plea deal or a trial, this will come back up as a hot topic time and again, especially if it made the news. (I work in News, husband is a criminal defense attorney).

      10. Just Allison*

        Totally agree with that. Recently we had an HR manager who refered and hired a family friend to be a runner for the company I work for and he ended up stealing 3 cars. Charges where pressed against the kid but our HR manager has always done good work and is well liked so they kept her on and shes still working hard.

      11. Old Admin*

        I once recommended a friend (with lots of experience and knowledge) for a highly qualified job in the tech industry – and he was a total flake, did almost no work, and was fired within 3 months. Fortunately no major mess like burglary!
        I got dinged for poor judgement at my yearly review, and even then I agreed.
        I did however continue working at my job, and it was forgotten within a year.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      I agree with this and feel like OP will be scrutinized for missteps in the future even for small ones. I don’t know why but I just feel like this is a possibility.

      I’d seriously consider applying for other jobs or just keep it in mind. Sorry

      1. Jennifer*

        I agree as well. The sister was so spectacularly terrible.

        That said, why were they going on the recommendation of a biased family member anyway?

    3. Penny Lane*

      If it makes you feel better, OP – this happened to a friend of mine who was an executive at a company who recommended his (no-good, drug-dealing, fresh out of jail) brother for a position in the warehouse. He moved his brother halfway across the country hoping that it would extricate him from his drug-dealing loser friends, and brother swore he had turned over a new leaf. Well, long story short, brother just met the drug-dealers in the new city, brought drugs home (thus jeopardizing the family, who didn’t want drugs in their home, understandably). Brother was sent on a brief business trip and trashed a hotel room and then didn’t show up for work. Granted, my friend was a higher level executive and had a lot of capital – but still, people understood that the actions of one didn’t reflect on the other.

      I am so sorry this happened to you, and stay strong with your sister and not letting her take advantage of you. You gave her a chance in good faith and she blew it. That’s on her.

  5. Amber Rose*

    I’ve seen this story play out in my own family a lot. It’s funny how familial bonds make people a little blind.

    Apologize, and then do what you were told. Keep your head down, work your butt off, don’t make waves. People are mad right now because you’re in the direct aftermath of the issue, but once emotions have evened out I think they’ll let it go.

  6. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    Yikes, OP! I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this. Not only a sister who can’t manage her life, but has also made yours more challenging. I think this is definitely a lesson in who it’s okay to recommend and who it’s not a good idea.

    You say you’ll never recommend anyone ever again. I think that’s probably going too far in the other direction (although while you’re trying to repair your reputation, it’s probably best to just bow out of that). But 5 yrs down the road? or 10? 20? You’ll be in a very different place then. That said, recommending your sister for anything ever again should definitely be off the table. She has proven that she can’t handle this and even though she’s family, you don’t need to risk your reputation further.

    I hope that in a few months everything calms down at your job and that you are able to re-gain your manager’s trust.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — and actually, I would not recommend telling the manager that you’ll never recommend anyone again (don’t know if that was something you were considering or not, OP) — that’ll make it look like you’re not drawing quite the right lesson. The lesson is “only recommend people you’ve worked with in a substantive way and can truly vouch for based on excellent experience with them, and do not make aspirational recommendations based on hoping someone will work out if given a chance.”

      1. TootsNYC*

        I also would react badly if the OP told me, “I will never recommend anyone again.”

        I’d actually see that as an immature overreaction. (It read that way to me in the letter, actually.) An overcorrection that demonstrates too much emotion and not enough professionalism or maturity.
        (like, rookie drivers sometimes yank the wheel too hard when they realize they’re drifting, and that creates even more danger; experienced drivers just adjust slightly and drift back to the center)

        Don’t bring up the recommendation topic at all. Just live that decision, don’t talk about it.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          To me there’s a distinction here, the OP should never make a *personal* recommendation, as in, somebody she knows from her personal life, a friend or family member or social acquaintance – from now on, she’ll strictly focus her judgement on the applications she receives externally.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I agree that’s a sensible restriction, and actually if she wants to never recommend ANYbody, she’s entitled to do so.

          But I would really caution against talking about that right now; it might be tempting to say such a thing as proof that she’s taking the issue seriously.

          But don’t; it’s not a mature way to react here; it’s based on panic, not confidence and learning.

    2. Armchair Analyst*

      Yeah, also…. I think the OP’s issue here is ALSO learning to trust herself again (or himself, not clear). Point is — people make mistakes. You made a big one. You’ll be ok.

      1. TootsNYC*


        In fact, I think the OP can start that process by recognizing whether she had any original hesitations, and recognizing that she CAN trust herself; she just can’t trust the other people who pressure her (including parents, who wanted the sister to move out), or the outside forces that pressure her.

  7. The LW*

    Hi Alison. Thank you for answering my question.

    After I wrote in you had sent me some follow up questions about the background check/due diligence the company did. It is relevant to the response and I did email back as follows:

    The company hired a whole bunch of people. The only kind of background check they did was a criminal records check for fraud/financial related crimes because that is relevant to our industry. My sister has past a marijuana and probation violation charge, as well as a suspended license from all the speeding tickets she has gotten, but she has no felonies or financial/fraud convictions.

    The job did not require any kind of special education or past experience. Since no past job related experience was necessary, the company was content with one reference from the people applying. I acted as my sister’s reference because I recommended her. Since I had 6 years of trust and had never been written up or in any trouble and had a proven track record at work, my word was taken that my sister would be a good fit. I was up front that my sister had no work history and she wanted to build hers up. I didn’t disclose her drug conviction or other stuff because it wasn’t asked for or relevant to the job. I vouched for her and because of my track record the company trusted me.

    So in response to your question about due diligence on the part of the company it was there. I did email you after you asked. Perhaps some wires got crossed or something. I apologize for any confusion. I did reply to you and it definitely factors into your answer. There was due diligence on the part of the company and it was mentioned in response to your follow up email to me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I did get your email, thank you! But not until late last night when it was too late for me to incorporate it into this answer — but I don’t think it changes anything about my response (hopefully you saw my email back explaining that to you — it’s in the email where I sent you this link). I actually don’t agree that the company did due diligence here. They should have talked to non-family references. I get why they didn’t — they were thinking it was an entry-level job and they had an employee willing to vouch for her — but it wasn’t a particularly thorough process on their side.

      1. Questioning Consultant*

        I like to see references from a variety of contexts/jobs. And especially in this case, since it was a family member recommending the potential hire, I agree the company should have gotten at least one non-family reference before proceeding. I am aware that sometimes family feels obligated to recommend someone even if maybe they don’t actually want to deep down (not saying that was the case here), but as the hiring company I’d want to take extra diligence for a family hire.

        1. TootsNYC*

          yeah, I think companies owe it to themselves to NOT rely on just a family member’s recommendation. Even more than if it’s a friend or former colleague.

          1. Seal*

            In the interest of due diligence and avoiding conflicts of interest, my current employer won’t accept references for internal candidates from current coworkers or even their current supervisor; a reference from a family member would be completely out of the question.

          2. Coalea*

            Yeah, I think any company I have ever worked for has prohibited accepting family members as references because it’s impossible for family members to be completely free of bias. In the case of someone with no prior work history, I don’t know who you could use as a reference if family is out of the question. I would be interested to hear from someone who has hired for positions where no work experience is required.

            1. Samata*

              Yes, I worked for a company where employees could refer someone to a position but could NOT be a reference for them – even if they were a past co-worker. I actually liked the policy a lot, because it almost added a layer of reference checking to our process (I was HR recruiter)

              1. Slartibartfast*

                Teacher seems like the obvious choice when there’s no work history; showing up for class, turning homework in, and paying attention all speak to reliability and character. Clergy would be another option.

      2. sam*

        Obviously the company shouldn’t have just relied on a family member reference, but I’d say another way the company dropped the ball was not having some sort of anti-nepotism policy in place in the first instance. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a strict “we never hire family members” policy, but at least one where they go out of their way to specifically *not rely* on family members for recommendations/references/etc.

        That would have probably avoided a lot of this as well.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, I’m gobsmacked at that. Even for the most basic entry-level jobs, I’ve always been required to provide at least three references. Sometimes the employer even specified managers. I can’t say they called them with any certainty, but only one reference seems really lazy to me.

      4. EmilyG*

        I recently adopted two kittens and was very specifically not allowed to use family members as references with the animal adoption society. So I can’t believe that what this company did counts as any kind of real reference checking.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I can vouch fot this! I’m in the process of looking for a cat to adopt, and all of the shelters/rescues around here whose applications I’ve looked at so far ask for 3 references and specify NO relatives. I have a feeling that’s pretty standard.

          Any hiring process that would hire someone based on only one reference–and that from a close family member–is pretty sloppy, imo.

      5. GreenDoor*

        What on earth? I work in public education, so of course we vet applicants for any signs of inappropriate behavior around children. But we also check references, past employers, and do a general criminal check, too. All of those things paint a picture of who we’d be putting in a classroom. If the LW’s company is in an industry where they have to be concerned about fraud/financial violations you would think that they’d need to know more than just “didn’t commit any crimes concerning money.” Yikes! This was not thorough at all!

      6. J*

        That said, it would likely completely backfire on the LW to bring up the idea that the company bears some responsibility in the hiring decision. For one thing they could respond that they thought they had done their due diligence with the LW over six years and could trust her judgement.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Oh absolutely. Said *at this point*, especially coming from the OP, it would read as an attempt to wiggle out of accepting responsibility.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Yeah, I don’t think anyone here is implying that OP should call their employer on out ony of this–we just want to make sure they realize that their employer did NOT actually do what most would consider due diligence and not make excuses for the employer in their own mind. Personally, I feel it could be helpful to OP’s peace of mibd to realize that some of the responsibility here DOES fall on the company, even though they can’t put that nowledge to any practical use right now.

      7. Nita*

        Yeah, this is not real due diligence. Although, FWIW, it’s not uncommon in some entry-level jobs. Unfortunately LW did put her own reputation on the line when she gave a reference but left out the red flags she knew of – there must have been a certain assumption on the company’s part that (a) she’s a good person to give a character reference as she’s known her sister for a long time and (b) she would not sabotage the company she works at by knowingly recommending someone who is a criminal. Only, unless the people doing the hiring live under a rock, they must know that family references are a no-no in many places, with good reason, and can at best be used only as a supplement to other references (for someone who’s never held a job, friends or community group leaders might do). Everyone’s to blame a little bit here – LW, the company, and most of all, LW’s sister…

        LW – I’m sorry if I was harsh, and I’m sorry this happened to your family. I know you meant for the best, and did not expect any of this happening.

    2. Snark*

      I ask this with compassion, as someone who has been in the position of making excuses for a beloved older relative’s bad behavior: my friend, do you not see how you threaded your sister through every loophole you could find? Do you not see how you self-edited to put your sister in a better light she didn’t really merit? Because, yeah, sure, only fraud and financial crimes were part of the background check, but “has been a criminal literally her whole life, has drug convictions, and cannot be relied on to follow even basic rules” is absolutely relevant to an employer, for reasons that are now obvious.

      1. fposte*

        I may be overreading, but I thought the OP may have been realizing that *after* the events and was framing this as her before-hire thinking. (I also suspect that unstated aspects of her before-hire thinking may have been tons of accrued family weight to get this sister on track–as people are noting elsewhere with talk about co-dependency, that’s tough to see past.)

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I tend to gree–if the OP is trying to disentangle herself from her sister’s train wreck, it can be helpful to see that she was still riding the runaway locomotive at that point.

      2. Clare*

        It’s one thing to recommend someone, another to both recommend and be the sole reference for that person. It’s definitely bad on the company’s part too, but I do wonder what other questions the company asked OP and what her response was. I’m assuming OP has never worked with her sister before this so would not have been able to speak to her sister’s work ability. So she essentially gave a character reference for someone who she knew did not deserve it. That’s more than recommending someone, that is also providing a misleading and inaccurate reference. I do have sympathy, OP, but when you apologize (if you haven’t already) you need to own up and apologize for the reference aspect of this situation too.

        1. Creag an Tuire*

          I’m taking the opposite tack on this, honestly: “I was up front that my sister had no work history and she wanted to build hers up.”

          If I heard that from a reference, particularly a family reference (absent any explanation like health problems/fulltime caregiving), I’d immediately assume that the subtext is “My sister was a fuckup who is trying to become a recovered fuckup, and I agreed to help her out.” And given her the appropriate scrutiny.

          1. Clare*

            It is true that some people might read that, but the problem with unclear statements like the one LW made is you really cannot assume that other people will know the message you are trying to convey. I know many people who graduated during the recession and were never able to find “real” jobs for most of their twenties, so someone could just as easily interpret a comment about wanting to build up work history as having bad luck breaking into the job market.

          2. Elizabeth H.*

            Me too, especially as it sounds like her sister is at an age when one would be expected to have a work history (I’m assuming here though – just bc OP has been in the work force for 6 years and siblings are typically of similar age).

          3. TootsNYC*

            I’m w/ Creag an Tuire: That’s a very clear flag, and if the company ignored it, that’s on them.

      3. tusky*

        You seem to be arguing that we should assume the worst of someone with a history like LW’s sister. Someone having marijuana and probation violation charges and a suspended license does not equal “has been a criminal literally her whole life.” Those things could be very real barriers to employment for someone who is trying to improve their behavior, and they may very well be irrelevant to that someone’s ability to perform in a particular job. I’m not suggesting that the LW lie or omit those details if they were requested, but assuming that they were not, it seems fair for the LW to decide that she wants to give her sister the benefit of the doubt (and leave it up to the employer to ask if they want to know). Whether or not it was *wise* to stake her professional reputation on her sister’s behavior is a separate question. It’s easy for us to judge now (with hindsight) that it was unequivocally the wrong choice, but it could have just as easily gone the other way.

        1. Snark*

          I think based on what we’re told in the letter, we have ample reason to believe that legal issues and drug use/abuse have been issues for this person since high school, and OP does not mention any substantive efforts to get clean, make amends, or otherwise improve their behavior. And my own experience has shown that a using addict or drinking alcoholic’s addictions are absolutely relevant to a potential employer, and generally not subject to the benefit of the doubt minus ample evidence of a genuine, lasting change.

          So that’s a long way of saying I’m comfortable with my assumptions, thanks.

          1. tusky*

            I think there might be some truth to your assumptions, but I’m (hopefully gently) pushing back on the notion that these are somehow more true (less biased) than the LW’s. I don’t see much (if any) evidence that drug abuse or addiction is a persistent issue for the sister, and I’m concerned about equating this and minor criminal offenses with the kind of serious criminality about which employers typically inquire. Considering that addiction is generally considered a chronic condition, at what point do you consider the evidence sufficient to declare the addict changed? Why is there an obligation to disclose someone’s addiction to an employer?

            1. Snark*

              I generally consider an observed year of full sobriety with accountability to a sponsor, accompanied by meaningful amends to wronged parties and a pattern of taking responsibility and accountability for their choices, to be a reliable indicator that I could consider vouching for them. And I don’t consider it necessary to disclose someone’s active, ongoing addiction to an employer. I consider it a reason not to recommend them in the first place – addiction issues are an instant DQ for a character reference.

              You can impute as much or as little bias to my perspective as you want. Given that I have direct, personal experience with multiple addicts in my family, I like to think my perspective carries some credibility, but you’re certainly free to disagree. Frankly, I think my assumptions are borne out by the reality of her actions.

              1. KG, Ph.D.*

                > I generally consider an observed year of full sobriety with accountability to a sponsor, accompanied by meaningful amends to wronged parties and a pattern of taking responsibility and accountability for their choices

                12 step programs have been tremendously helpful for many people, including some dear friends who would not be alive without them, but they are not a good fit for everyone. Sobriety, responsibility, and accountability are all important factors in deciding to hire someone with a history of addiction, but I’m a little uncomfortable with them being couched in 12 step terms, as they seem to be here.

                1. Snark*

                  As am I, which is why I very intentionally didn’t say anything about 12-step programs. I realize that “amends” is a part of one of the steps, but it’s also a feature of other recovery processes, and a good way to right wrongs and demonstrate a pattern of new choices and assumed responsibility. So.

              2. tusky*

                I think it is not the only possible interpretation, but your perspective is valid and valuable to the conversation.

                1. Mad Baggins*

                  I really enjoyed reading both tusky and Snark’s takes on this. Thank you for disagreeing so kindly with each other.

              3. whingedrinking*

                I’d say that some of the pushback you’re getting is based on the fact that people have different understandings of what addiction is and what it means to be an addict. If we interpret addiction as a pattern of unhealthy substance use in which the user feels little or no ability to stop, then your words come across as extremely harsh – you’d have to treat every pack-a-day smoker as an unreliable junkie. My own experience with people who have substance use issues is that they range from people who might be better served by a therapist and/or prescription, to those who aren’t living their best life but aren’t actually hurting anyone else, to human dumpster fires who wreak havoc and destruction in their own lives and those of everyone close to them.
                The AA-style description of addiction seems (again, not an expert here) a much narrower concept, where the addict is almost more of a personality type and the substance use is practically secondary. You can be an addict even after you stop using; it’s about the destructive behavior that surrounds the substance, so addicts are, by definition, dysfunctional.
                I’ll cop to personally knowing mainly people who smoke pot to cope with the stress of their PhD, or drink so they don’t feel depressed when they’re alone, or don’t have any goals beyond taking E every weekend; I can appreciate that if you’ve known more of the “force of destruction” types, this would give you a different perspective.

          2. Kate 2*

            I’m in total agreement with you Snark, and a little puzzled why some people want to give the benefit of the doubt to people who have shown no real remorse and are still engaging in the dangerous and/or illegal behaviors. Quite frankly, 1 or 2 run-ins with the law, that come with an explanation would be one thing. Over and over again and no explanation are another!

            In my experience people who are truly remorseful will own up and give reasons, not excuses, and explain and show you how things are different now.

            Maya Angelou is the one who told us that we should believe people when they show us who they are.

        2. Penny Lane*

          “You seem to be arguing that we should assume the worst of someone with a history like LW’s sister. Someone having marijuana and probation violation charges and a suspended license does not equal “has been a criminal literally her whole life.” ”

          Except that’s exactly what the OP told us – that her sister has been, essentially, trouble with a capital T her whole life. This isn’t “I smoked some pot in the public park once and got caught.” Snark is spot-on here.

          1. tusky*

            I’ll grant that she clearly has a history of bad behavior. That said, if “criminal literally her whole life” and “trouble with a capital T” refers to someone who has a misdemeanor, periodic unspecified illegal behavior to support herself (petty theft? selling marijuana?), a suspended license, and can’t hold down a job, well…maybe it’s just the current world we live in, maybe I’m just too forgiving, but I can think of a lot worse. But, really, my point was more that these are not behaviors that I think warrant assuming someone absolutely cannot succeed in an entry level job. The “can’t hold down a job” might be the most concerning part in this regard, but there are certainly many reasons for this to be the case.

            1. Femme d'Afrique*

              Tusky, I’ve read your comments about this and I’m wondering what you make of this *specific* case. I get the pushback against assumptions in general, but this OP was dealing with her own sibling who she straight up says has had a troubled past and has resorted to supporting herself with illegal activity. The OP, like you, seemed to think that the sister COULD succeed in an entry level job and then was proven horribly wrong. I get where you’re going in the abstract sense, but what would you advise this particular OP to do now?

              1. tusky*

                I think Alison’s advice to the OP is good. What I make of this specific case is that the OP made a choice that panned out badly, in that she recommended her sister, without being able to actually speak to the sister’s professional capacity, and without anticipating or understanding the potential impact on her own professional reputation. It is clear *in hindsight* that her sister is not trustworthy, but her past illegal behaviors do not in and of themselves make her so–and that is primarily where my comments were directed.

            2. Pomona Sprout*

              Tusk, I’m wondering if you have had any personal eperience with addicts, the insidiousness of this disease, or the realities of the recovery process. Your posts read like maybe you haven’t. I admire your compassion, but honestly, compassion is not necessarily the best position from which to operate when dealing with people like OP’s sister.

              1. tusky*

                I have had relatively limited personal experience with addicts, so I’m certainly less qualified to speak to that (although I question the notion that one can’t remain compassionate while enforcing boundaries, refusing to enable, disengaging from the relationship, etc). I don’t know whether the sister is an addict and I don’t see how we can know that from the letter. But, assuming the sister is an addict, that in and of itself would not have made it unwise for the OP to recommend her.

                1. Kay*

                  I have hard, up close and personal experience dealing with addicts. Eventually you run out of compassion to give. Eventually you stop being compassionate to protect yourself and your own sanity. I have no compassion for the addicts I’ve had to deal with and wouldn’t show them an inch of it if they reappeared in my life. I don’t care how heartless this sounds. Anyone who has experience with addicts will admit it is the truth. Same with recommending someone who is currently struggling with addiction. I wouldn’t recommend, hire or work with one. I’ve seen the consequences up close myself. It would be a different story if the person was actually trying to turn their life around and making progress, or had been clean for a while. But a current addict and/or someone like OP’s sister? Not a chance

                2. tusky*

                  Kay, I am sorry you have had to deal with that; it sounds truly painful. I certainly don’t mean to tell anyone they must have compassion for someone who hurts them. My limited experience with addicts suggests that they cannot all be painted with the same brush; that is where I am coming from.

      4. Augusta Sugarbean*

        Props to you, Snark, for this. I think we see a lot of this type of blinders-on letter and a lot of us have an immediate “Ugh, why didn’t you do X/you should never have done Y.” reaction that is from a similar perspective. I think we feel frustration at the situation and want to help but comments come across harsh and tend to get written off as victim-blaming. Examining our actions is so important so we can start to course-correct. Yours is written in a really constructive way.

      5. Trout 'Waver*

        Snark, this one seems to hitting very close to home for you, and you’ve posted prolifically in this thread. Maybe you’re projecting a bit too much of your own history onto this one? I don’t see how such strong statements can be made in this case.

        1. Yada Yada Yada*

          Trout, I don’t think that’s particularly fair or your place to say, to be honest. With the totally ridiculous way the LW’s sister acted on the job, I would venture a guess that the bad attitude isn’t new. We can’t really say, but if you’re willing to talk back at coworkers, curse our customers (!), disregard basic rules at a job, these are probably things you do to your family too. I doubt they’re brand new behaviors that came out of nowhere. It’s the attitude, combined with the record, that spell “capital T trouble”

        2. Snark*

          I think you’re being uncharacteristically uncharitable and condescending, so I’m gonna let this one ride.

      6. pancakes*

        It’s not the main point of your comment, but I want to throw in that having drug convictions is not in and of itself a signal of moral turpitude. Particularly as to marijuana, which seems to be the drug in question here. A number of states and cities where it’s newly legal are wiping old convictions from people’s records, or sealing them, or making it easier to have them sealed. I know we’re in a weird place nationally in terms of legalization and not at consensus, but I raised my eyebrows at the line in the letter, “In our state, a few ounces is a felony. My sister has a prior conviction and is lucky he did not call the police.” She was smoking a joint – a firing-worthy offense, yes, but there’s a big difference between a joint and “a few ounces.” A joint rolled with “a few ounces” would be the size of an adult forearm. To the extent that sis “has been a criminal literally her whole life,” burglary is probably and increasingly far more relevant to employers than marijuana convictions.

    3. eplawyer*

      I’m going to disagee a tiny bit here. you should have disclosed your sister’s drug conviction and other stuff. You know better than she actually is. Just because the job had no special requirements does not mean this information was not relevant. If you had been completely open in recommending her “Hey my sister needs a job, no work history, has a past criminal history but claims to have turned her life around” they might have looked further. Or if they didn’t because they trusted you, then it might not be blowing back so hard.

      Just for future use, if you recommend someone in the future, give the negatives you know as well as the positives. Let the hiring manager decide based on the whole picture.

      But yeah, this is terrible for you. Your sister didn’t have to do the last bit of breaking in and stealing computers. That was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back for the company with regards to you. The other stuff, okay, she was defiant and didn’t show up. You might have been given a pass on hope over reality. But to react that way after being fired shows that you were really too blind about her faults.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, I think your first paragraph is the crux of the issue and why OP’s company is really mad. OP failed to disclose crucial information about her sister’s self -destructive behavior and drug use because she didn’t think it was relevant – but it is. It speaks to your sister’s ability to perform at a high level and, the logic behind asking about drug use (whether we like it or not), is that drug abuse can lead to the financial crimes your job was looking for in the background check. And as the sister ended up stealing company property, she did ultimately commit a financial crime against the company.

        The damage is already done in this case, but for anyone else who considers “finessing” the background of a referal – don’t. Give your company the complete picture and let the chips fall where they may.

        1. Lora*

          The other thing I thought of: if they are doing such shallow background checks that come around to bite them in the butt, this probably isn’t the only bad hire they’ve regretted, and I’m imagining some very senior manager shouting at LW’s grandboss, “first it was Fergus, then it was Wakeen, now LW’sSister! Have you EVER learned to hire a friggin’ human before? Have you been living under a rock? Do you not watch Jerry Springer?”

          1. Em Too*

            I think this is reaching, and they’d start upping their checks after Wakeen rather than exploding at LW, but I do admire your scripting here.

        2. MommyMD*

          Yes. OP left out extremely crucial information and I’m sure Employer is thinking she attempted to pull one over on them. And really, she did.

      2. FD*

        give the negatives you know as well as the positives

        And honestly, this is useful in general and helps the hiring manager make better choices. For instance, “I worked with Joanne for three years, and I found her to be a really responsive peer, and generally very good at handling a high-pressure job with a lot of details. While I think she was really good overall, I know she sometimes struggled with delegation, so if you think this role will involve a lot of that, she may not be the best fit.”

    4. Antilles*

      Asking for her sister’s opinion and then doing nothing else is not due diligence. Like, at all.
      Here’s one example of how they dropped the ball based on your comments:
      “I was up front that my sister had no work history and she wanted to build hers up.”
      Quick math: You’ve been there for six years. I’m assuming you were probably graduated high school (at least) before that, therefore you’re at least 24 (even older if you also went to college). This is your *older* sister, therefore she’s 25+ years old. The fact that someone who’s at least 25 years old has no work history and no degree is a gigantic red flag even if the job doesn’t actually require special education or experience. Not necessarily a disqualifying one, but really one that should make a hiring manger ask a lot more questions than just trusting one person’s (not unbiased since you’re related) word.

      1. Naptime Enthusiast*

        Thank you, I’ve been trying to figure out how to phrase this. She had NO work history, the least the company could have done was probe sister (and maybe LW, I’m not really sure) on why that is. And while they only used the background check to see if there were any finance-related charges, why WOULDN’T they look into her whole history while they’re at it? Parking and speeding tickets are definitely not a work related problem, but they would have easily found the drug charges and made a much more informed decision even without LW disclosing.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          In the abstract, I actually applaud companies who don’t do more of a background check than necessary. There’s so much that’s screwed up about the (US) criminal justice system that looking at things like low-level drug charges (in jobs that don’t have a safety or other related reason for it) is just another way to introduce discrimination into hiring practices.

          But, and this is a big caveat, you have to pair that with other ways of assessing whether someone is qualified and a good fit, like thorough references from people they’ve actually worked with.

          1. Lissa*

            Yup. This is really really hard. People get screwed over in so many ways that can mean one or two mistakes when they’re young, or a bad family situation, can forever impact their work situation. I really want people to take a chance on folks like that and not just toss away people forever. I’m a heavy believer in rehabilitation/prisoner re-entry issues.

            BUT the problem is that it isn’t always easy/possible to tell those people from someone who says “I want to turn my life around” and will go right back to their old ways. And going back to their old ways isn’t always because they’re just Born Bad, sometimes it’s a complicated set of reasons that have been written about eloquently by not-me people. Those spirals are *hard* to give up on and not as easy as somebody giving them a chance. But at the end of the day the company just can’t interrogate why an employee has done things like swear at customers and commit armed robbery.

            That’s one reason this is so hard for families or people who do want to help. Because very often people mean it with every fiber of their being when they say “I want to change” and still can’t. And at a certain point you *have* to protect yourself. Not going to go into personal stuff here but I have some experience with this so will leave it there and just say I feel horrible for the OP and wish her the best.

            This is why family recommendations should *always* be investigated further no matter what. People have blinders on they don’t even know are there. You *can’t* honestly evaluate a family member. You just can’t.

        2. Stellaaaaa*

          Especially since drug charges do tend to go hand-in-hand with money sketchiness. It is very common for a frequent drug user to steal to support her habit or start dealing, both of which are obviously illegal. I’ve heard of companies being wary of candidates with too much student loan debt when hiring for finance-adjacent jobs. Drug use is absolutely relevant to a finance company.

      2. Parenthetically*

        LW says this is her first job since her part-time college job, so I was assuming she was at least 28, which means her sister is at least 29, which makes the company’s failure to dig deeper here even more troubling and confusing. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a way for her to say, “Look, you should have dug deeper,” without it making her look worse, though.

        1. Just Jess*

          It may not help the conversation with the supervisor but there’s a point about LW not beating themselves up since the thread is moving towards the direction of “Wait, how did this place make the selection decision?” LW still has responsibility, but this isn’t 100% their fault and LW definitely shouldn’t feel the need to go to extremes like never recommending anyone for a job ever again.

          Cutting off the sister is a good move though just in case anyone is thinking that would be extreme.

          1. myswtghst*

            Completely agreed. It isn’t to say OP shouldn’t have been more forthcoming with details or can do much about it now, but it is to say that the company had plenty of opportunities to ask questions or seek another referral and did not.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          It occurred to me that they might have assumed “no work history” means she was a stay-at-home parent, and they didn’t want to ask about that. But the whole process seems lackluster in general. I still can’t get past only requiring one reference. I have never come across that before.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Or had some kind of learning or physical disability that prevented her from working. I wouldn’t automatically assume drug addict with criminal tendencies when hearing something like this, especially if the person giving me the information has her own shit together as it appears the OP does.

          2. Qbert*

            I have been offered jobs without any reference checks, and others where references were requested but never contacted, it’s not THAT unusual, especially with entry-level jobs.

      3. Cringing 24/7*

        Exactly! Plus, it just baffles me to bits that the company was willing to accept a relative as a reference. I’ve *never* been at a company that would allow the ONLY reference to be someone related to you.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, I don’t get that at all! My brother and I work in, not the same, but loosely related fields and he occasionally forwards me job postings, but it would never occur to me to ask him to be reference (and I assume that even if I did, he’d decline).

      4. Tuxedo Cat*

        Was it clear the sister was older? I see no prior work history.
        I know there was a background check and I think those must include birth dates, but whoever does the background check might not be the same people who do the hiring.

      5. OhNo*

        I disagree that it’s as big of a red flag as you’re suggesting – I know a couple mid-to-late-twenties women that entered the work force after being stay-at-home mothers for a while, and I think that would be a fairly harmless reason for someone to be making a late start on their career.

        That said, I totally agree that the company dropped the ball hard by not at least asking a few follow up questions. The fact that there were several warning flags and they don’t seem to have so much as paused before taking the OP’s word, tells me they’re not good at hiring for this position. I hope they take this experience as evidence that they need to revisit the hiring process here, rather than just passing the blame onto the OP.

        1. Antilles*

          I think we’re just disagreeing on terminology here. I meant red flag as simply something that should jump off the page and demand more investigation – not a do-not-hire flag, but a “hey, this is miles away from the norm and should be checked” flag.
          If your follow-up reveals that the reason for the late start is mothering or being an Olympic athlete or some other harmless and understandable reason, then you remove that from your list of concerns. But it is odd enough that it warrants at least a more detailed follow-up, which apparently never happened.

        2. London Bookworm*

          A red flag just means an indication that you should investigate further – it’s a yellow light, so to speak, not a full stop sign.

          If someone in their late 20s has no work history, it’s worth checking into why that is.

        3. TootsNYC*

          did they even interview her? I guess they did, since they told her she’d have to dye her hair a normal color and cover her visible tattoos.

          But did they ask her why she didn’t have -any- job history at 28+ years old?

      6. Ali*

        Absolutely. I work for a multinational investment firm in Australia and even entry level positions have to undergo Federal Police checks before you can be employed.
        Also, while you can recommend a family member for a position at my firm, you better have an impressive resume, independent references, and do well in an interview to be considered.
        The OP made a huge mistake, but her company did as well and they have to bare some responsibility for this mess.

    5. Amber Rose*

      Yeah, that really doesn’t sound like due diligence. A company that doesn’t understand that a recommendation for a family member needs more attention is a company that isn’t hiring very well. Even very good workers are going to be biased about close family (I speak as someone who works for a company that runs on nepotism and is dysfunctional as a result). Did she get a proper interview?

      1. Massmatt*

        I think the company fell down on managing/supervising her as well as its hiring process. She dared her manager to fire her, was showing up late, and cursed customers. She was evidently only fired after getting caught smoking pot in the bathroom. I guess we know just how awful you need to be at this company to finally be fired.

    6. hbc*

      “Since no past job related experience was necessary, the company was content with one reference from the people applying.” So all an applicant needed was for a single person in their life to be willing to vouch for them personally?

      I can see why they’re annoyed that they thought they had a reference that they could trust, but geez, if a family reference and no work history is your bar, you have to be prepared to supervise heavily. And if you’re going to go with that bar, you have to be ready to bail at the first or second sign of problems. They shouldn’t have even gotten to the joint in the bathroom.

      1. BadPlanning*

        Yes — if the company is going on that little and hiring a bunch of people, they have to have some expected failure rate built in.

      2. Dot Warner*

        And if you’re going to go with that bar, you have to be ready to bail at the first or second sign of problems. They shouldn’t have even gotten to the joint in the bathroom.

        That’s a very good point. The sister had at least two fireable offenses prior to the joint incident, which means that the sister’s manager should be under just as much or more scrutiny as the letter writer.

    7. Oranges*

      It sounds like your company either grew a ton or they have a high turn over department (like… a call center. Not many people can take the daily customer anger). So I can see why they didn’t do due diligence but that’s still not doing due diligence whatever the reason. If they haven’t gotten bitten by that before I’d be surprised. It feels big now because humans love drama.

      Remember in high school when there was a juicy rumor? Remember how they usually fizzled out unless fed? That’s what’s happening now because this is a perfect recipe for drama: Reliable Employee, Families, Drugs, Stealing, Etc. People can craft a good, comforting and familiar narrative out of that.

      So, you’re gonna now be the “Reliable Employee with an Unstable Sister” sorry. Don’t feed the fire by talking about her. Don’t excuse her behavior. Don’t excuse your own culpability with rules lawyering about how she met all the qualifications on paper. Just drop it and become boring. Eg “Yes, I made a mistake now about work related item”

      1. LQ*

        Call center was what jumped to my mind too. I think it is possible they have been bitten but not this bad, or not this bad by someone who was recommended by a family member. We have a call center where I work and most of the bad family recommendations turn out to be unreliable or not good enough on the phones. We’ve never had a family recommendation come back and commit burglary. This might last a while. It’s pretty huge.

        But I highly recommend this tact of dealing with it. Keep your head down for a while and let it be as boring as possible. Do really good work so the Reliable Employee part stays well attached. This is a time to be visible being “good”.

      2. TootsNYC*

        Don’t feed the fire by talking about her. Don’t excuse her behavior. Don’t excuse your own culpability with rules lawyering about how she met all the qualifications on paper. Just drop it and become boring. Eg “Yes, I made a mistake now about work related item”

        Yep–even with friends. Make this be really boring.

        Find a phrase and a tone of voice to use, and then never vary from that. Flat-out say, “I’d rather not talk about it” if people push.

        1. Snark*

          Yeeeessssssssss……but. That all has to be prefaced by heartfelt and detailed apologies to her boss, the sister’s boss, and leadership, if they haven’t been made explicitly yet. Once she’s fully owned and apologized for the mistake, then she can adopt the drop it and bore them approach.

      3. Collarbone High*


        My first job had very high turnover, and as a result, often did “chain hiring” with families. In fact, they strongly encouraged employees to urge family members to apply.

        Most of the families had at least one “problem” member who either got fired or banned from the business as a customer. How the rest of the family was perceived depended almost entirely on how they reacted to that. “Don’t feed the fire by talking about her. Don’t excuse her behavior” is great advice. Make the apology, and then make clear through actions that you and your sister have nothing in common.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I worked in a small business in a smallish town and, I kid you not, I and the two women hired at the same time as I was were the only ones who weren’t related to everyone else there: Everybody was somebody else’s sister or cousin or brother’s girlfriend or high school classmate or had grown up together or whatever. It was a mess. They weren’t terrible people–it would have been a lot better had the owners/managers encouraged adult, professional, behavior, but they didn’t have any respect for their employees and were both unsupportive and didn’t ask enough of them. As it was, it was like middle school–constant drama and rumors and craziness.

          1. Collarbone High*

            Even worse, the large families started intermarrying until probably 90% of the workforce was related to each other in some way. Oh, the drama.

      4. Elizabeth H.*

        Something I am confused about is the combination of a) “hiring a bunch of people, entry level, no experience AT ALL and no references required” and b) the fact that this is a position where you have to wear a suit and that an entry level employee can do so much damage before being fired that C-level executives notice or care. The former, a), suggests a call center or tech support mill where people get fired every week, employees are neither expected very much from nor can expect much from the company, and it’s not too surprising that some of the people you hire are flaky or disasters. The latter, b) very much DOESN’T and also suggests that even an entry level role would need to be somewhat thought-through if it’s a significant enough position to be client facing and executive noticing. Confusing.

    8. animaniactoo*

      Honestly, what I would say in your position is “She had been doing much better recently, and I thought she was going to be able to handle this. I probably held out too much hope because she’s my sister and I wanted that to be true, and I deeply apologize. I made a huge mistake and I recognize that it was one. I shouldn’t have recommended her because the change was too new, and when I did I should have been much clearer about her history of issues so that you were aware that it was a risk and could decide if it was one you wanted to take. Again, I apologize.”

      And then just keep your head down and keep chugging away. At my company, there used to be 3 brothers who all worked here. One was fired after it was discovered he was building a gun in the machine shop. The other 2 brothers survived the froufrarah and are still employed here. As is the longstanding employee whose husband turned out to be stealing product and selling it off himself and was fired for it. Yeah, they had to hunker down for awhile and manage to disassociate themselves through continued good and valued hard work from their relatives. But they managed it. This is a hurdle, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your career. It’s more like you move back to being less than 6 months into your job – some proven stuff, but still a question on judgment and you have to rebuild that. Slowly. Don’t expect it to go away overnight, but don’t expect it to be a never-ending stinkbomb either.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I agree with animaniactoo 0 if you haven’t already, apologise specifically, and be clear that you did genuinely believe that she was able to do the job, bearing in mind her recent progress and the limited requirements of the job, but that you acknowledge that you were wrong and that you should have gone beyond the basic requirements and been more open about her history so they could make an informed decision.

      2. Luna*

        I would caution against the “doing much better recently” line- OP should only say that if it is actually true, which to be honest I don’t think it is based on the information provided.

      3. CM*

        I really like this because it explains what the OP should have done differently, in a thoughtful and self-reflective way.

  8. Cordoba*

    When dealing with the sort of adults who find themselves in a situation where they have to swear that they’ll behave *this* time I find it best not to take them at their word.

    Formerly out-of-control friend/relative/acquaintance wants a job recommendation, or a loan, or anything that will put me out if they fall off the wagon? No problem. Keep your stuff straight for 6 months or a year and then come talk to me with a track record of actually successfully being a grown up and I’ll do what I can for you.

    But if all they have are impassioned speeches about how they’ve recently “turned over a new leaf” or similar? Bzzzzt. Next contestant.

    If I were the LW I’d also make a point of not referring to her as “my sister” when talking with the execs and bosses about it. Call her by her name; it creates distance between the two of them.

    Say: “I never would have guessed that Fergina would come back and steal those computers.”
    Not: “I never would have guessed that my sister would come back and steal those computers.”

    1. anyone out there but me*

      This is great advice!

      OP, don’t beat yourself up too bad over this. I’ve had similar experiences with both my sons. We always want to believe the best of our family. It’s natural, because we love them no matter how much they mess up.

      There is some good advice here for you. I believe you will overcome this, in time.

    2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      That’s an excellent idea (and I can’t stop giggling at ‘Fergina’).

    3. Snark*

      Absolutely. Because here’s the thing with addicts: a lot of times – not this time, the sister sounds frankly irredeemable – they genuinely do believe they’re turning over a new leaf. The alcoholics I know and love all did a solid few years of the cold-turkey “I’ma get sober now, this is the real deal – ooo vodka” routine before they actually got sober. And they’re all pretty damned talented at talking pretty.

      1. animaniactoo*

        It’s easy when you’re trying to convince yourself and have a deep-seated need to believe it’s the truth.

      2. Oranges*

        Tangent: Usually that’s because they really do believe themselves. I normally believe me when I say this time I’ll go to the gym 3 times a week and I don’t have near the social pressure to “get clean” and the (thankfully dying_ judgement that drug addicts are inherently bad people.

        I loved the TV show hoarders for a look inside how a mind in denial works; so much connotative dissonance on my side since I could see they believed vs what reality was. It made my mind hurt.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        And they’re all pretty damned talented at talking pretty.

        I’m trying to figure out if it would be better, or worse, to say “Jane promised me she’d changed her ways and she was going to behave.” Because, on the one hand, it shows that you were aware her behavior could be a problem, rather than saying “ah, she’s a screw-up, but it doesn’t matter for this job.” And anybody who has experience with someone like your sister would probably Get It, because they can be pretty convincing. On the other hand, it would show you were aware of her behavior, and recommended her anyway. So. I don’t know what I think.

        1. Snark*

          I think ultimately, erring on the side of not recommending a person whose professional conduct you can’t unreservedly vouch for without editing yourself or framing things euphemistically is the safest policy,

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I mean after the fact, as part of the apology, not when you’re recommending someone for a job.

      4. tusky*

        I agree generally with this, but I don’t see anything that indicates LW’s sister is an addict. Nor do I see much point to speculating about her ability to be ‘redeemed’–what would that mean, practically?–the important thing seems to be to set and maintain healthy boundaries (as in some of the examples provided by Cordoba).

        1. Snark*

          Previous drug convictions combined with acting exactly like I’ve observed many addicts acting, basically. It’s really not a far leap.

        2. Robin Sparkles*

          Her behavior is very much exhibiting that of an addict – I get that we often want to not speculate things but really it would be impossible for us to have a rich commenting discussion if we avoided all assumptions – this one isn’t that far of a stretch.

          1. tusky*

            I get that. I think I just find that focusing on the behavior, rather than trying to diagnose it’s cause, tends to be more useful. But I grant that it may be useful for the LW to think about in these terms.

            1. Cordoba*

              When I wrote my original comment I was thinking of the sister as a serial poor-choice-maker rather than as an addict, but I think my point is applicable either way.

              Regardless of the reason for their difficulties, somebody with a well-established track record of bad decisions and/or inappropriate behavior has to establish a solid new track record of good behavior before I will assist them in a way that requires me to go out on a limb personally, professionally, or financially.

        3. Oranges*

          A lot of us just jumped to this since we have addicts in our families and this is just… classic them. It didn’t even occur to me that she wasn’t an addict of some stripe, alcoholic just seems right to me but that’s probably because of my family history.

          The only relative I have that does this poorly at Adulting has BPD, and is a (thakfully dry) alcoholic. But when she wasn’t sober? This sounds like exactly the stuff she would pull because the lowered inhibitions would make her symptoms worse.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            I am definitely one of those to whom it didn’t even occur that OP’s sis might not be an addict! For some of us, certain behavior patterns spell that out so clearly that there doesn’t seem to be any question. I’m still convinced that she is.

  9. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Oh, man. LW, I am so sorry. It is so easy to trust and believe our family because we love them and want them to get better. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling like a moron.

    As how to restore your reputation? Work hard, stay low, be an exemplary employee and that should help you weather the storm.

  10. LSP*

    OP – I am so sorry that you are dealing with this. as someone who also has lived with a toxic and self-destructive older sister, I can empathize. I think the first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is talk with your boss and really own your own poor judgement here. Let her know that your relationship with your sister is complicated, but that you have learned a painful lesson here, and will be more judicious in your recommendations moving forward.

    Also, speaking from experience, at a certain point, you have to believe who a person is by what they show you. My own sister will say she wants to get along better, be closer, etc., but then she’ll start saying hurtful, even downright cruel things, sometimes in front of my 4 year old son. No matter what she says, her actions are what I have to base my judgement on.

    I hope your sister finds a way out of the life she is living, but you cannot take responsibility for getting her there.

  11. Naptime Enthusiast*

    This reminds me of Friday’s letter about passing along a family member’s resume without actually recommending them, and this is the worst possible outcome I could think of.

    OP, I’m sorry that your sister ruined your reputation. I agree with Alison’s recommendations, but I really think you’re going to have a hard time moving on from this. I would expect 6 months to a year for it to fully blow over, especially because of the B&E/theft. How small is your niche industry? Small enough that they would all hear about this, and recognize your last name from it in a year’s time? If so, it might take you moving out of the industry altogether.

    1. Susan K*

      I was thinking the same thing! I hope Friday’s letter writer reads this as a cautionary tale. Both LWs wanted to do something nice to help family members, which is really kind, but it doesn’t do anybody any good in a case like this where the family member tanked her own reputation and brought down the LW with her.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I was thinking the same thing… Ugh, another reason not to work with family. The OP could probably distance themselves more from this if it wasn’t the sister. The go-to excuse of “I can’t believe Jane behaved the way she did! My previous experiences with her have been positive and professional!” – just doesn’t work the same way when it’s the OP’s sister. There’s an extra expectation that you know this person well and can really vouch for them.

    2. Jennifer*

      Seriously, they should not have been listening to a family member’s recommendation in the first place.

      (Seconding the name, har har)

  12. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I am so sorry this happened to you. And I’m sorry that this is still happening to you.
    When some time has passed, I hope you will be able to reflect on this part, though: “I will never recommend anyone for a job again no matter who they are…”
    And not do that.
    Because what you are saying is that you will no longer trust.
    You won’t trust anyone else and you won’t trust your own judgement. That is no way to live. And it’s also the opposite of what happened. You knew what your sister was, but you were swayed by family loyalty. You convinced yourself that you could help her. You were wrong about that. And you are being punished by your company for it. Don’t punish yourself in addition by becoming cynical about people. Your sister is a crap person, but she is only one crap person.
    You are one good person, don’t let her take that, too.

    1. Lance*

      I was reading that less as LW trusting anyone else enough to recommend them, and more on their colleagues/bosses/etc. not trusting their recommendations enough to move forward with them; perhaps even the reverse, pointedly refusing to look at recommendations coming from the LW.

      Even as far as that goes, though… this one instance isn’t the end-all. Rebuild that trust, do good work, and your recommendations will be trusted again, even if it might be a lengthy process to reach that point.

    2. TootsNYC*

      You won’t trust anyone else and you won’t trust your own judgement. That is no way to live. And it’s also the opposite of what happened.

      Exactly! Your own judgment was that she was not going to be a good employee.
      You went against your own judgment (bcs of family pressure & loyalty).

      In these times while you are hunkering down and working hard, and keeping pretty much, work on honing your judgment, and on TRUSTING it.

      I believe most people actually have good judgment, and then they talk themselves out of it due to other factors.

  13. That Guy's Sister*

    Oh, OP, I feel for you so much, and have been in a very similar position with my brother. One thing that has really helped, other than therapy, is the combined support of Al Anon support groups for people who love someone with an alcohol/drug problem and Melody Beattie’s excellent books on co-dependence, particularly “Codependent No More”.

    You are not responsible for your sister, nor for saving her, nor for her mistakes, nor life path. You are not your sister. This is not your fault. You are responsible only for your own behavior. In this case, you made the same mistake that many, many of us have made. You learned a lesson crucial to your own future well being, and it is recoverable. You will have to be scrupulous and diligent at work. Maybe you will need to find a new job. But you will be okay, because you are a good employee trying to do the right thing.

    MOST people will have the same compassion for you that so many of us have because this is a common problem within families.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Seconded*

      Yes; I’ve enjoyed attending 12-step meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families. I’ve learned to walk away from dysfunction and that I can redirect my effort to myself rather than trying to fix someone else’s mess.

  14. Snark*

    Hoooooo boy.

    I mean, yeah, OP, you made a catastrophic judgement call. This wasn’t just “she turned out to be kind of a slacker and was a bad culture fit,” she was actively inimical to the interests of the business and engaged in criminal activity on premises. In addition to the measures Alison recommends, I think it’d be productive for you to see a therapist or do some self-interrogation about why you, against a lifetime of evidence to the contrary, decided to stick your neck out for her. It’s pretty clear that a high school dropout with an ongoing drug and criminality problem for which they have undertaken no treatment nor engaged in meaningful amends is not someone you should stake your repuation on, just from what you disclose in your letter. Why you decided to do so anyway is a question whose answer would probably be a great help to you moving forward in your life.

    Honestly, I think you may not come back from this. Recommending someone who did so much damage to the business that their distinctive last name is famous is….a lot. I have no doubt you’ve burned a lot of bridges, and the ones still standing are charred and rickety at best. Even if you demonstrate impeccable judgment, it may not be enough, here.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      The “why” is pretty obvious and quite ubiquitous. I don’t think it requires therapy to figure out. Likewise, I think most people will understand and be more empathetic when this dies down a bit.

      1. Snark*

        There’s a big gulf between knowing why you did a thing and not being in thrall to that pattern of thinking and action anymore.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          There’s also a big gulf between making one mistake to help your sister and being a thrall. The OP hasn’t given nearly enough information in their letter to make that judgment.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        No kidding. Therapy? It seems like the OP is pretty clear headed about the situation.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          It’s not as though therapy is some huge thing, necessarily. OP gave in to family pressure on this, and that’s generally not a one-time deal. I think it would be a useful course of action, even if it’s just a few sessions to practice scripts for resisting that pressure the next time that Mom and Dad want OP to come to sibling’s rescue.

        2. Snark*

          Hindsight, to be horribly cliched, is always 20/20. It’s easier to be clear about why a particular mistake was a mistake than it is to see a mistake coming and understand your own triggers and motivations in the moment.

      3. BananaPants*

        If she’s already been warned that she’s on thin ice, I wouldn’t count on the company keeping her around for long enough to let it die down.

    2. tangerineRose*

      The OP sounds fairly young and may have spent their whole life up to this point having to cope with and help her sister. It sounded to me like the OP wanted to believe the sister and found out the hard way that this isn’t going to work well.

      Therapy might be a good idea – might help OP figure out more about what shouldn’t be done for the sister and help if parents are pressuring the OP.

  15. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

    Your sister sounds like my sister. She has been clean and sober for about a year but after 20+ years of sketchy living that is still not enough to bring her back into the family. As for recommendations, I have a blanket policy of never recommending anyone after getting burned when a co-worker ghosted on a job that I vouched for her. Instead, I tell people to contact the company directly and I offer neither a yea or nay if asked about them.

  16. Lora*

    I’m sorry this happened. You’re definitely not the first person to cut off a family member for a-hole behavior, nor the only person on earth with an a-hole relative. It will take time to repair your rep but eventually people will reason that hey, it’s not unusual that you’d give your sister the benefit of the doubt and more chances than she really deserved.

    Plus, most people have at least one a-hole in their family, no matter what their moms* say about them.

    *My mother swears it’s always the moms who don’t believe their little serial killer would ever harm a fly, even when the rest of the family acknowledges that Junior is a puppy-kicking monster.

    1. rubyrose*

      Yes, it is usually the moms.

      This reminds me of something from the past. I was called for jury duty and was screened for a trial for a serial rapist. I correctly predicted I would not be selected because of my childhood sexual abuse. I left the courtroom and in the hall two women engaged me in conversation. It was the mother and sister of the guy on trial, who were both convinced he was totally innocent. That was 20 years ago and I believe he is still in jail.

      1. Plague of frogs*

        Ha, this reminds me of when a guy exposed himself to me. In court, waiting for stuff to happen, his mother and sister were sitting and rubbing his shoulders and glaring at me. To them, I was the terrible girl who was trying to ruin their darling’s life. I just wanted the guy to get some therapy before he did anything worse.

  17. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    No advice to add to what you’ve been given, just really sorry things turned out this way. You were only trying to help someone. Good on you for refusing to bail her out. You’ve gone above and beyond for her. At this stage, she’s on her own.

    I hope your company recognises that you and your sister are very different people. Wishing you the best.

  18. Future Homesteader*

    OP, internet hugs if you want them. Toxic siblings are so, so hard to deal with. I’m sorry you’re going through this in your personal life, and doubly sorry that it’s spilled over into your work life. I think if you take responsibility and continue doing great work, they’ll eventually regain trust in you. I’m sorry that for now, though, everything sucks. It’ll get better!

  19. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Uf da. OP, I feel you — I had the same thing happen, but for a roommate instead of a sister. So obviously I had a real conflict of interest in recommending her, because I needed her able to pay rent!! She didn’t even make it out of training before her attitude got her fired. It was not good, and definitely cost me reputation at my job.

    Alison is 100% spot-on about your response, though. Head down, do good, hard work, and demonstrate that this was a blip in judgment.

  20. neverjaunty*

    LW, what did you say in your recommendation? Your company’s reaction seems over the top – surely they would have expected you to be a little biased about your own sister.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      I’m guessing the company believes the OP knew her sister would behave like this… A little biased would be if the OP ignored some abrasive behaviors or that her sister was lazy.

    2. Dan*

      Yeah, the first question about *any* referral should be, “Have you ever actually worked with this person?” If the answer is no, then what else even matters? And if the answer is yes, and you’re recommending them, then that recommendation really would carry a bit of weight.

      1. aka Duchess*

        Yes, to the self checking questions, but I would add another.
        “When you worked with this person, were they your friend?” (work friend or person friend)
        All through out college my husband would get a job and a few months later, he would suggest his friend for the next open position. And with out fail, the friend would be the worst. and my husband knew he wasn’t close to being a great employee, but would always try and help him out.

        TL;DR – Even if you worked with them – if they were your best *work* friend, then your recommendation probably isn’t objective.

    3. LBK*

      Right? I’d have taken the whole situation with a grain of salt – it’s odd that they seem so blindsided just because she came recommended. There was no consideration for the context and content of that recommendation.

    4. Perse's Mom*

      I wonder if the company is doubling down on blaming the OP because they didn’t do much of any due diligence themselves and don’t want to admit it.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        That’s what I wanted to add. The people at the company are angry. Angry people want to find the source of their anger. They want to blame somebody. She’s your sister, therefore it’s your fault. And you are still there, reminding them of the bad hiring choice and well, robbery. So yeah, they will blame everything on you. Almost to the point that they feel YOU robbed the place. If it gets that far, you need to walk away.

  21. steve*

    Any company that holds a grudge for recomending a sister is kind of a crappy company. I understand why they are mad. But still some people are going to look out after family before company. I understand the company being mad and not trusting recomendations anymore, but they should not go much beyond that imo.

    1. Snark*

      Hard, hard disagree. If you recommend someone, and choose not to disclose that they’re an addict not in recovery and engage in criminal enterprises, that’s a display of bad judgment that reflects badly on someone for very good reasons. Particularly if they’re in the financial services sector, where judgment and probity are really important.

      1. kb*

        I think it depends on what Steve means by grudge. Being dubious about OP’s judgment and not promoting her for at least a year during which OP keeps their head down and does excellent work- a fair amount of grudge. But if this is held over OP’s head forever and people actually consider her responsible for her sister robbing the company, that’s unfair, imo. OP has put in 6 otherwise good years at the company and her sister’s actions escalated beyond what OP would have predicted. It was certainly a bad decision to recommend her, that’s undeniable, but it seems like OP, like a lot of people would, assumed their sister wouldn’t let her down.

      2. steve*

        I agree it is bad judgement. But it it is understandable to me that someone could be blinded by love. Lots of people have been duped by believing someone has changed. The company can discount her advice on recomending people and still believe her when it comes to other areas. The letter writer didn’t lie. She just believed the best of her sister and was wrong. Bad judgement in one area does not mean bad judgement across the board. Or do you believe it does?

        1. Snark*

          A judgment call this thoroughly bad would put someone on probation with me for a couple of months, yeah, and it’d take a while for me to regain my trust. Sometimes, bad judgment is not necessarily limited to its area, and indicates a broader blind spot. Blinded by love is all very well, but it only writes off so much.

          1. Snark*

            That’s not to say that all instances of bad judgment mean bad judgment across the board, and not to say that this instance of bad judgment means LW actually has bad judgment across the board…..but this is the kind of bad judgment that can bleed across the board, and I do not think ill of the company for putting her under a few months of scrutiny.

          2. tangerineRose*

            “probation with me for a couple of months, yeah, and it’d take a while for me to regain my trust. ” Very understandable.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Her bosses as human beings can have compassion for her. As business owners making management decisions, though, they have a duty to be more calculating than, “Ah, well, aren’t we all blinded by love sometimes? C’est la vie.” They only know LW as an employee, and as an employee, she made a spectacularly terrible judgment call. It doesn’t matter what they believe in general about bad judgment being isolated or pervasive; whenever they think of her judgment now, this incident is going to be at the forefront of their minds.

          1. Snark*

            “Ah, well, aren’t we all blinded by love sometimes? C’est la vie.”

            I’m imagining this in a really stereotypical Pepe le Pew French accent accompanied by philosophical gestures with a lit Gitane, and giggling.

            1. Lora*

              At the moment that the rain has washed the unfortunate white paint markings from the cat…

        3. wow*

          Failing to mention the drug conviction (and based on LW’s response above, STILL thinking it was not relevant) demonstrates such egregiously bad judgement that I cannot see how a company in the financial services sector would keep LW employed on anything less than a massive PIP.

          1. Just Jess*

            What would that PIP look like?

            Or would it be the kind of (ill-advised) paperwork PIP where the person is definitely going to be fired at the end of it?

            1. wow*

              I honestly don’t know. At my company LW would have been shown the door as soon as the non-disclosure of the drug conviction became known, since if they were willing to hide that, what else would they hide?

              1. Mary*

                That’s an odd definition of “hide” to me. If the LW had been asked about it directly and said, “no, my sister does not have any drug-related convictions”, that would be a clear probity issue. But the takeaway lesson from “our otherwise-good employee knew the company was doing a background check and didn’t mention this because she thought it wasn’t relevant” should be “ask better questions”, not “this employee is unreliable”.

                1. serenity*

                  Ok, this is tangling ourselves in knots to go easier on the OP territory. I’m sure the OP learned a really valuable lesson here and will act differently going forward, and no one’s trying to pile on. But shifting the entire blame to the company is naive and unprofessional. She recommended her sister, an addict and what sounds like lifelong petty criminal, for a role in her company for which she was spectacularly unsuited. That’s not good judgment, however you slice it.

                2. Mary*

                  Yeah, but it’s also not “what else would she hide” territory, which is what the comment above mine said. I don’t buy that it raises significant probity issues.

      3. Alice*

        I agree with your point… But I chuckled when you said judgment and probity are important in the financial sector. Robosigners, liar loans, Wells Fargo’s new accounts opened for existing customers without their knowledge, HSBC laundering money for drug cartels…. LIBOR…. Probity? I’d say that compliance theatre is really important in the financial sector, as is the ability to negotiate settlements when someone gets caught.

    2. Murphy*

      I think if the sister ended up not working out long term for some other reason (culture fit, job was more A and sister has more skills in B, etc.) then yeah the company shouldn’t make a big deal about it. But for this kind of catastrophic horrible behavior? I feel for OP, but I can see why they’d question OP’s judgment over this.

    3. Temperance*

      I disagree. LW didn’t just “recommend a sister”, she recommended her reckless, addicted sister with a criminal history and no real work experience. If you’re going to put “family before company”, fine, but you also need to reap the consequences of that. LW obviously regrets giving her sister yet another chance.

    4. A.*

      I know this property manager who got fired because he placed a tenant without telling the homeowner that the tenant was his daughter, she had a history of not paying rent / being evicted from places, and a criminal record. It was no surprise when she stopped paying rent after the first month and caused extensive damage to the property before disappearing. The home owner took the property manager to court for the damages and won. I remember sitting in the courtroom thinking, this person has such poor judgement and is so dishonest that he should not be a property manager.

      1. FD*

        To be fair, that is substantially worse. If they’re licensed real estate agents, property managers may have fiduciary duties to the owners of properties they manage (depending on state law).

      2. Mary*

        That would work as an equivalent if the LW had directly employed her sister and Terrible Consequences had ensued. But she didn’t: she just recommended & the company places waaaay too great a weight on a sister’s recommendation in their hiring process.

        I’ve got to say, this whole culture of recommendations sounds like a really terrible idea to me and this post is a perfect demonstration of why.

    5. TootsNYC*

      I get the idea that a recommendation should be of integrity, but I also think that this company has SO many opportunities to ditch this bad employee that they aren’t being fair to lay it all at the sister’s feet.

      And especially since it was a sister, the company has to be clear-thinking enough to realize that this entire CATEGORY of recommendation has vulnerabilities that THEY need to explore.

      1. Aunt Piddy*

        This is where I’m at. They didn’t fire her when she showed up with pink hair and dared them to fire her??? By that point they knew the type of employee she was, and unless LW begged them to keep her on at that point it’s unfair to put all the blame on her shoulders.

    6. LBK*

      I’m completely with you on this – I think a lot of people are making it sound so much easier to just let the sister rot than it would be in real life. A bad family member is still a family member, and I don’t know if you ever truly stop wanting to see them change and succeed no matter how many times you get burned. I don’t blame the OP for holding out hope that this time would be different, and that if she could have a hand in pulling her sister out of the cycle, she felt obligated to do her part.

    7. MommyMD*

      Sister is an angry, thieving, addict who at every point in life has made the wrong choice. OP knew this and falsely presented her in a light that did not exist. Of course the company will feel betrayed. They trusted her.

      1. Penny Lane*

        It’s so difficult – one gets the sense that the OP was hoping that this, this opportunity was the magic turnaround that would get sister on the track to righteousness.

      2. LBK*

        But on the other hand, if this would be the opportunity that would have truly turned the OP’s sister around, would the OP want to have been the one to deny her that chance?

        Now, ultimately this is usually a delusion, and the person can’t change unless they truly want to change. But it’s so much easier to say that than it is to follow through on letting a family member fail until they decide to solve their own problems because of the guilt trap referenced above. It’s so hard not to feel like it’s partly your fault if you don’t do whatever you can to support them – the intrinsic bond of family makes you feel like they’re always deserving of your support even when they haven’t earned it.

  22. The Supreme Troll*

    OP, I totally understand where you were coming from, and family bonds usually trump everything else. Your heart was definitely in the right place, and I know that you wanted to give your sister a leg up.

    But now, that the damage has been done unfortunately, I think it is OK to take full responsibility of your decision to recommend your sister (acknowledge the terrible lack in judgement, apologize profusely, explicitly state that you realize why nobody would want to work with somebody who has your sister’s characteristics). I know that this will seem that you’re throwing your sister under the bus, so to speak, but her actions at the time were past being defendable in any way to any reasonable manager or colleagues. As other commenters have stated, continue doing the excellent work, and there is a chance that you will be able to put this behind you.

    I also highly agree with what Alison wrote above to Detective Amy Santiago. Please, don’t quit just yet, but continue to excel in every possible way that you can. Best of luck!

  23. ninfragile19*

    As someone who has referred not one, but TWO siblings, I can say with certainty that if anyone ever decides to this – don’t, just don’t. My sister was kinda disastrous at times (due to severe depression/anxiety) but managed to survive it six years there and had a pretty clean work record with upward trajectory since then.

    My brother had nothing but problems, I attributed much of that to his boss (my colleague), being extremely difficult to work with which makes it my fault for not thinking about how well they would work together. They both actually have very similar personalities and I suspect that it caused them to grate on each other until my coworker let my brother go while I was on a work trip so I couldn’t intervene as it was happening…not that I would’ve done so.

    Thankfully, my career at both places never suffered for it. They knew my work and the type of person I was and said I wouldn’t be the first person to make a bad hiring recommendation. Since then, I have vowed to never refer anyone to a job short of acting as a reference.

  24. Dame Judi Brunch*

    This really sucks, it just kept getting worse.
    Keep your head down and continue to work hard. Hopefully this will blow over for you. If it were me, I’d try and ride this out for a while, as uncomfortable as it will be. You want a chance to recover at least some with this employer before moving on. You never know who you may work with again down the road at future employers.
    Consider going no contact with your sister.
    Good luck and take care!

  25. Lady Phoenix*

    I would stop referring her as your sister, and instead refer to her by name. Maybe mention that you have cut ties with her.

    Next is to just work. Maybe for half a year to a year so things blow over. Then consider job searching, unless your boss trusts you again to want you to stay.

  26. MuseumChick*

    OP, I so sorry you are going through this. I don’t have much to add except this: Don’t write off recommending anyone for a job every again. Just adjust your criteria. In this case, your sister has/had proven to be a totally irrepressible person. As her sister you wanted to help her and took her word she had change. But how much objective evidence of that did you have before recommending her?

    With me, I’ve worked with a lot of teenage volunteers for month – 12 month stints. If a teen can behave themselves and show go work for 6 months I am willing to provide a good reference if they need it. But for adults, I need to see you work for a the bear minimum of a year and see some really good work.

    Hide sight 20/20, with people like your sister, you really need to see several years of them actively making good choices before going out on a limb like this for them.

  27. SoCalHR*

    I definitely think this is a lesson for people on both sides of the fence:
    – employees: know that your reputation could be impacted if you make a hiring recommendation, so tread wisely
    – hiring managers/HR: realize that non-management/non-HR people may not fully know what it takes to perform that job well, or perform well in your working environment, or with a particular team – that is why we have jobs because we have more knowledge in that area. So, take employee recommendations at face value and do not use them to circumvent your due diligence. Just because “my cousin’s friend is a great person” doesn’t mean they’ll be a great llama wrangler – its our duty to know that, not necessarily the recommender.

    1. M from NY*

      Absolutely! There’s too much blame being placed on OP when its clear they did NOT perform due diligence with interview process.

  28. Lady Blerd*

    I feel bad for you OP. This is the reason why I’ve never recommended my sister for a job although her past is not nearly as bad as . She’s good for the most part but when she gets overwhelmed with anxiety, she simply disappears and then I get calls from employers asking where she is. I understand your impulse of wanting to help her get her life back together and this is a very hard lesson to learn. Hopefully you will recover from this.

  29. Oxford Coma*

    Interesting and timely letter, considering the comments this past Friday to LW #3 that were urging people to recommend applicants with mental issues and criminal records for “another chance”.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It’s certainly a fine line.

      People with mental issues and criminal records do deserve a ‘second chance’, though I’m not entirely comfortable putting those in the same category.

      If no one is willing to hire someone with a criminal record once they have served their time, what are they supposed to do? Someone needs to give them a chance or they are more likely to re-offend. I’m not advocating that every job needs to be open to felons, but everyone can’t write off people with records either.

      As for the mental health aspect, if someone is in treatment, their past issues shouldn’t be held against them same as you wouldn’t hold cancer against someone.

      1. Lora*

        There’s a wonderful program near me that incorporates several months of work in the treatment-house-owned restaurant prior to allowing addicts to “graduate”: that way they have nearly a year of work experience to demonstrate that they are trustworthy and responsible again. I’m fairly sure the backlog to get into the program is huge, as they aren’t very big and they’re serving a large metro area, but I wish there were more programs like that. And yeah, many people don’t make it through, but lots do get it together.

        1. paul*

          Our local Goodwill has a partnership with a halfway-house type thing for ex-offenders that does that; it *seems* to be working fairly well but it’s only about 18 months old. I’m actually a volunteer for one of the agencies that they’ve applied for grants to fund it with, and it’s neat to see the ins and outs and the competing pressures those programs face (balancing the improbably high success rate that some funders seem to want, their own reputation for making people into decent employees, trying to be firm but understanding with them). It’s a cool program and I hope it has long term success.

    2. Temperance*

      FWIW, I think those were the minority of responses. Most of the comments were firmly on the side of encouraging LW not to put her reputation on the line for her BIL.

      I do hope that Friday’s LW reads this letter and weighs her options accordingly, though. If LW’s sister couldn’t hack a part-time customer service job, recommending her for a full-time office job was a bad call.

    3. fposte*

      I only saw one comment like that, and it was strictly about mental issues, since that what her husband had faced.

      I also don’t think that’s an invalid point to make; it’s just that it’s a kind of hiring choice that a prospective employer should make with knowledge. In this case they weren’t.

    4. Oranges*

      I don’t think anyone was saying “yes, recommend this person and paper over/ignore the possible issues of hiring them” which is what the current letter writer did. She didn’t give the company much needed info about her sister which is understandably human.

      This would be a different letter if she said “I told my company that hiring my sister was a risk because reasons but she has been doing well recently” in her recommendation. That way the company would be going in with full information needed to do a cost/benefit analysis.

    5. Betsy*

      Hmmm, this is unfortunately worded. As someone with what you would call ‘mental issues’ I’ve always been a great performer at work, and I’m usually one of the best in my teams. I don’t think my ‘mental issues’ have much bearing on my ability as an employee. Of course, that’s not to say that others’ ‘mental issues’ wouldn’t affect them, depending on the particular issues and their severity.

  30. Not Australian*

    Allison, assuming that at some near-future date the OP is either let go or feels obliged to move on from this job (which I do hope won’t happen, although clearly it’s going to be uncomfortable for a while) – how would you suggest they address their reason for leaving when they apply for other work?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She’s been there six years, so any of the normal explanations of being ready for something new will work.

      If she’s let go, I’d suggest she negotiate an agreement with the employer about what they’ll say, pointing out that she has a strong six-year history with them that would justify that.

  31. M from NY*

    I believe your sister’s boss anger is misplaced. A low level job that relies on training employee has risks with any candidate and proper performance steps should already be in place to weed out bad employees quickly. Your referral may have gotten sister the interview but unless you intefered with the performance process this disaster, as bad as it is, does not solely fall on you. You’ve made error referring candidate but that shouldn’t erase 6 years of positive work.

    That said, this was a hard lesson to learn. Don’t let your parents or anyone else guilt you into a referral. All you can control for now is your work reputation and not managements reaction to situation. Continue to be the exceptional employee you have been. If after 6 months things don’t improve (or if its apparent that management will not let it go sooner) then begin to look for another job. Giving a bad reference is embarrassing but in this context is not the character stain that your bosses are making this out to be. Your work as an employee still stands as an accomplishment. Continuing to get mad at you instead of addressing their internal hiring processes is on them. There’s a difference between acknowledging a lapse in judgement and complete transfer of responsibility. Do not let guilt over what happen allow them (or yourself) to take on blame that is not yours to own.

    Really sorry this happened but in time hopefully you all will be able to take perspective on the learning opportunities to improve processes instead of assigning blame.

    1. mf*

      “That said, this was a hard lesson to learn. Don’t let your parents or anyone else guilt you into a referral. All you can control for now is your work reputation and not managements reaction to situation.” –> Yes, this is exactly why you need to look out for your own reputation and employment before helping out others, even close family.

  32. shep*

    So, not NEARLY on the same level as OP, but I have a blanket policy of never recommending/referring anyone for positions.

    I made the mistake of recommending a friendly acquaintance from graduate school to work at my first job. She was moving to my city and was looking for something part-time. She flaked out on the interview–never showed up, and when my grand-boss called her to see what happened, she gave some incredibly convoluted/manic story about how two days into her move, she’d had her credit cards stolen and she felt unsafe in the city and that her whole world was crumbling and she was moving back in with her parents.

    (Two weeks later, she moved to NYC, because that’s clearly safer than mid-sized southern city???)

    The whole situation made me look like I had less-than-great judgment (Grand-boss to me: “Um, how well do you actually know this person?”), and this person NEVER followed up with me to apologize or explain.

    It wasn’t even THAT much of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but her level of thoughtlessness as to how her behavior would make ME look, as a professional contact who went out of my way to do her a favor, was infuriating.

    Then she had the audacity to ask me for SEVERAL more favors throughout graduate school after this, and I just ignored her.

    1. Snark*

      Honestly, I think you and OP are both drawing the wrong lesson from those experiences. You can absolutely recommend people – just don’t recommend friends and family you haven’t worked with and for whom you can’t vouch for their professional conduct and practices, just because they’re friends or family.

      1. serenity*

        Yes! Not sure why this is hard for folks to grasp. A professional recommendation is far different than a personal referral.

        1. shep*

          I don’t think it’s that the concept is hard to grasp. I recognize that I’m overly cautious, probably to a fault. Also, per the nature of my current role, which is the sole creative(ish) position in my org, I just haven’t worked directly with anyone on projects for a sustained enough period to feel comfortable recommending them.

          (I was also very young when I recommended said flaky person, so I have CERTAINLY learned that I should only recommend people I’ve seen in a work environment–and that high pressure post-graduate work doesn’t count.)

          I’m sure someone will come along in my work sphere and color me utterly impressed and I’ll change my personal policy. It just hasn’t happened yet.

      2. Mary*

        I’d flip it around too: don’t recommend anyone unless you are sure your employer will give that due weight (ie. not very much) and take responsibility for their own decision in hiring someone. The risk shouldn’t be on your employees’ heads when they have all sorts of other pressures and perspectives and absolutely cannot be expected to operate in the same impartial way as a hiring manager.

    2. M from NY*

      Your mistake was offering professional referral for someone that you only had a personal relationship with. Her lack of follow through shows how weak your tie truly was. Don’t let mistake with one person discourage you from making introduction for former colleagues you can actually give a substantive referral to. Referral should be taken as an introduction and can be helpful if resume doesn’t immediately fit certain boxes. For example, if you can confirm former coworker basically ran department although title doesn’t match make that specific introduction. It’s still on employer to see interview to assess if person is good fit. Putting in word because you both attended same school should not be given same weight at all.

      1. sam*

        Yep – I’m always happy to pass peoples’ resumes along (to get past the bot filters), but I do so with the caveat that *that’s all* I’m doing. I will send them to my HR contacts and explain that I know the person personally (or however I actually know them), but I’ve never worked with them, so I am not vouching for their work – that’s still on the company to do their diligence.

  33. Falling Diphthong*

    Emphasizing Alison’s advice to apologize: I get the urge to hunker down and assume everyone can see that you are angry at her and mortified at yourself. But that’s not guaranteed–you need to spell it out. (And as noted upthread, that “not to recommend anyone” is not the thing you are apologizing for.)

  34. Espeon*

    Argh OP I feel for you so much. You have a kind heart and, while *objectively* you shouldn’t have trusted her, she is blood, and you wanted to trust her, and have hope for her, and to help her in case she really did want to sort her life out. That speaks wonderful volumes about you. Her failure is not on you, don’t let ANYONE make you feel that way.

    I understand why your company is very, very unhappy, but I do think they’re misdirecting their rage at you, and it isn’t fair. Yes you had blinkers on, but if they’re too daft to think “Hmm, even the best employees (people! Human beings!) can have poor judgement when it comes to family, we’d better be a little more diligent in these cases.” that’s on them. They’re lacking a lot of compassion and clarity here and – while I agree you should stick it out and at least try to smooth things over – that’s a red flag about them, to me. If they keep this up, where has your six years of being a good, trustworthy employee gone? Does it count for nothing to them? This is just not a fireable offence, you are not your sister.

    Stay strong OP!

    1. Temperance*

      In all fairness, the illegal drug use while on the job, as well as the burglary, are sufficiently egregious enough to call LW’s judgment into question, and to unfortunately dring her rep.

      1. M from NY*

        OP said sister had past drug conviction not that she had knowledge of current drug use. Those are very different variables.

        1. Temperance*

          Not really. What she said was that her parents had already washed their hands of the sister due to her history.

        2. paul*

          OP knew her sister had a long history of criminal activities (IIRC she mentioned using criminal activities to survive).

          That sounds like a lot more than the odd toke.

    2. RVA Cat*

      I honestly have to wonder if the threat to fire the OP is because they think she may have been complicit in the burglary.

  35. AnotherAlison*

    My mother once recommended my cousin for a job at her company. My cousin was known for not keeping a job–he was a know-it-all who was too good for anything. Even with little job-specific training or education, he thought he knew more than his managers. He lived with my grandparents after high school, so an income wasn’t that big of a deal.

    He was at my mom’s company for a few weeks, stirred up some talk of unionizing, wrecked a forklift, and walked off the job. My cousin passed away when he was 45 from cancer with 4 little kids, but I don’t think he ever held a job for more than a few months. My grandparents once sent him to HVAC school. He did well, and had a good job, but then as the new guy, he had to work a holiday, so he quit. My uncles gave him money to invest in starting a different business. That failed quickly, too.

    Some relatives are just that way, OP. Lesson learned.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I have a similar story in my family too. Cousin with a poor ethic (to put it mildly) relies on family for job referrals, flakes out, burns bridges, damages reputations. You’d think we’d learn, after he burned so many of us. But the desire to help a struggling family member – and the guilt of refusing to do so – are strong emotions.

  36. The Senior Wrangler*

    No advice but plenty of sympathy!
    I hope things turn out as best they can for you.

  37. Formerly Arlington*

    I feel so much sympathy for this person–I tend to be the kind of person who only sees the best in people, and I have also made some recommendations that on retrospect were more about me wanting to see someone have an opportunity to succeed than because I thought their talents were a good fit for the company. They both backfired, though at a much smaller scale (both were no-shows to job interviews and it never went further, thankfully.)

    What I will say, though, is please let this life lesson prevent other, more personal and cataclysmic errors in judgment happen later in life. The “trusting too much” issue is a REALLY big deal. If you have kids, for example, you don’t want to put them in their aunt’s hands, or in the hands of someone else questionable. Or pets, or money. I think you should really explore this part of you that wants to help people. For me, digging a little deeper about what I got from helping someone out–especially someone everyone else classified as a lost cause–made me more aware of this tendency and think things though more carefully in the future.

    1. Snark*

      So….is this about trusting too much, or is it about wanting to be the savior and redeemer? I’m curious about how this dynamic works.

      1. Oranges*

        Speaking of me personally who also has this issue. It’s the fact that the warm fuzzies I get by helping other people are like a happiness hit. I blame my empathizing overly much where it is a defect sometimes. I have put up practical solutions to this tendency. Like always double checking with other people, not doing a huge favor unless I sleep on it and double check with others, etc.

        1. Snark*

          Thanks for the perspective! As anybody who reads my posts will no doubt anticipate, this is not a pitfall I often fall into – which is the nicest way possible to call myself an asshole, I guess – so thanks for the insight.

          1. Oranges*

            No problem. I like seeing the world through other’s eyes also. Trite… but, a world full of just Oranges or Snarks would be not so good. I like Pratchett’s quote: We only become full members of humanity by rubbing off each other’s rough edges. (I mangled it but that was the gist).

            Also congrats on parsing my post. It was a bit discombobulated.

          2. Kate 2*

            I’ve found that as a person “asshole” is the highest compliment I can give myself. Too many people in my life try to guilt me into doing things for them. Things they don’t deserve, in case anyone wonders.

            Similarly I call myself a “bitch” with a great deal of pride. It means I have trained myself out of the forced, suffocating “niceness” culture stamps on women.

            I still do things for people who deserve it, and donate to charity and sign petitions. I just don’t bother any more with people who aren’t worth it.

  38. knitcrazybooknut*

    Letter Writer, oftentimes in these situations, you get pressure from your family to help your family members in some way. They can be persistent and unpleasant and they will not let up until they get what they want. If that’s the case, you know now what that has cost you – six years of hard, conscientious work. You need to decide if your relationship with your family as it stands is worth that cost.

    If your family isn’t like this, I apologize for my misinterpretation, and I wish you the best.

  39. Bea*

    It’s shocking that they took a family member as the only reference. Everywhere I’ve applied who requires references are clear that family is not acceptable. Yikes.

    This sucks and I wish I had something helpful to say but knowing this kind of nasty mindset that comes into play, I’m certain the next error will be used to terminate employment. I would be looking for another job and cutting family ties before this woman can completely demolish your life at this rate.

  40. Naruto*

    If one of my employees recommended one of their family members, I would, at the very least, take that recommendation with an extra large grain of salt.

    They didn’t, and that is (or should be) on them. Much more than it’s on you, in my opinion.

    That said, I think Allison is right and you need to apologize for this — because you did screw up, too, and because you need to try to salvage your reputation there.

  41. Muriel Heslop*

    Okay, after I explained “due diligence” to my eighth graders, they found hilarious (and more than a little troubling) that a company would accept someone’s sister as their only reference. As one of my students, Red Owl, said, “My mom won’t even accept mine or my sister’s word without backup. That’s crazy that they would do that for a job.”

    (My students like the names used on the site like Fergus so I let them choose their own. I do not have a student named Red Owl.)

    Good luck, OP! We are hopeful that after apologies are made and time passes, that things will improve and your six years will count for what they should.

    1. Robin Sparkles*

      I love so much that you share this blog with your eighth graders. They are being set-up to succeed in the working world thanks to you!

  42. Erin*

    My advice is to follow Alison’s advice and then follow the lead of your parents and cut this person out of your life.

    I know you didn’t ask that question. I’m sorry if my thoughts aren’t wanted/are presumptive/etc. But oh my goodness.

    This isn’t, she got drunk once at an office party and embarrassed you. This isn’t, she has a drug problem and went to rehab and suffered a setback and is working on it. This isn’t, she made one poor judgement choice and now she and you look bad.

    She swore at clients, smoked pot at work, broke into the work and stole things, and that’s not even all of it. This is not someone who is going to change and you don’t need that kind of toxicity in your workplace, or in your life.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. Also, if she’d break into the OP’s workplace, she might break into the OP’s home.
      It’s unfair but relocating might just be the fresh start the OP needs.

  43. MommyMD*

    Is this letter even real? Sister is such an over the top disaster it’s glaringly obvious she would fail. Criminal endeavors if her source of income ran out? If this is genuine keep a low profile, be excellent at your job, and time should make it better. And the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

    1. FD*

      Sadly, it isn’t that unusual.

      And, sure, it’s easy for us to see that from the outside, but if a family member is there in front of you, and they seem really earnest about turning their life around, they just need one chance…most people are going to find it hard to say no.

      1. Susan K*

        Plus, there can be tremendous pressure on the successful members of the family to help the struggling ones, sometimes without realizing what a huge favor/risk it is. Even if the OP had a feeling it would end badly, it’s quite possible that the sister, parents, and possibly other relatives laid massive guilt trips on OP (“Do you want your sister to be homeless? All she’s asking is for you to pass along her application to your boss. Are you so selfish that you won’t even do that for your own flesh and blood?”).

        And that’s why it’s so, so important for employers to do their due diligence when they hire people, especially those recommended by relatives! It was poor judgment for the OP to recommend her sister, but even worse for the employer to hire someone with no references other than her sister.

    2. Nerdling*

      This is unhelpful, especially in light of the OP themselves responding early on in the comments.

    3. Penny Lane*

      Nice people such as the OP genuinely wish to help their siblings, and show them the right path to go down. I don’t think it’s helpful to suggest that the letter isn’t real. I can easily see it being real.

    4. Antilles*

      Not the OP, but I have zero doubts that it’s real. Zip, zero, zilch, nada, nil. People have massive blind spots when it comes to family members thinking they’ll change, thinking that this time will be different, believing that maybe just maybe if we give her this chance she’ll learn, and so on.

    5. Lady Phoenix*

      I have an older brother and a sister in law. Definitely not drug users or violent, but still untrustworthy.

      While I do love my brother, I don’t trust him and wouldn’t give any referrel—let alone a positive one.

      As for Sister in Law? Hate her. Two timing, lying, lazy, and possibly cheating on my bro. I wouldn’t refer her either.

      But my geandparents tolerate their nonsense because faaaaamily.

    6. Bea*

      I’ve had family members completely refuse to admit their siblings are unable to be helped. Heck they go so far as to refuse to admit their brother is a raging alcoholic and got mad when I checked “yes” on a family history record that there is addiction in the family.

      It just sounds like people who get conned by Nigerian Princes and wire transfer thousands and lose their homes. If people blindly trust strangers professing love from thousands of miles away or have found a fortune to share with them, certainly people blindly think they have siblings who may change one day.

    7. Temperance*

      I’m pretty active in forums for toxic family issues. This is actually pretty mild compared to some of the things I’ve seen wrt dysfunctional families. LW has probably been conditioned her whole life to take care of her sister.

  44. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m sorry this happened, and agree with Alison’s overall advice, but being in danger of getting fired seems WAY over the top.

  45. Q*

    I’m baffled. What does a work reference actually entail? To me, it seems like someone like my boss would ask if I knew anyone who might fill a role, I’d think about people I know, and if I knew someone with those skills, give them a name. And if they were interested, they’d get an interview and get hired…on their own merits. And then their work career is different from mine, except maybe “oh, those two know each other.”

    I’m too young and too new to have any kind of capital with this or have any idea who to recommend for anything, but this company’s reaction seems very, very extreme to me, and the idea that the OP might get fired and judged for months over this, even to losing career opportunities, is kinda surprising.

    1. Snark*

      At least to my mind, it means, “I can personally attest to this person being qualified, competent, and both temperamentally and professionally suited to this particular position you’re hiring for.” And in my experience, it definitely carries the connotation of burning a little professional capital to personally encourage a hiring manager to give someone special weight in their hiring decisions. You’re asking them to substitute, or at least supplement, their professional judgment for your own, and so you’re asking them to trust the quality of that judgement.

      1. Q*

        I guess I’m a bit lost about how that encourages them to give the person special weight.

        1. Snark*

          How would it not? If someone whose experience and judgment I trust tells me a certain person is a great fit for a position I’m hiring for, that personal testimony is one more bit of information I don’t have about the other 75 applicants for that role, and it comes from someone who I think isn’t going to steer me wrong. I’ve hired a couple of people specifically because they came highly recommended.

          1. Q*

            Do people really go, “I think this person is GREAT” when passing along resumes or potential candidates? I guess I would just feel like a feeder system handing over applications.

              1. Q*

                Ahhh, that seems so awkward. How would I even know that if I wasn’t the hiring person who knew what was needed?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  You’re not saying “she would be the best fit for this job of everyone applying.” You’re saying “I know you’re looking for someone who’s strong at X and Y, and my old coworker Jane Smith is great at both of those, as well as being awesome at Z and generally great to work with. I think she could be worth talking to!”

            1. Snark*

              Yes, we really do. As I have now told you in three separate posts. Since you’ve already admitted this is something you don’t know much about and asked those of us with experience for perspective, is there a reason you’re giving me the gears?

              1. Q*

                I didn’t mean to. Like I said originally, I’m was really confused to how this whole thing works and was asking for clarification, because it seems my entire interpretation of how this works was very wrong.

                1. Mary*

                  Don’t know where you’re from, but this absolutely wouldn’t fly anywhere I’ve worked apart from perhaps a couple of waitressing jobs. I don’t whether it’s that we don’t do it in the UK or just because I’ve always worked in public-sector / HR-led organisations, but it’s horrifying to me!

                2. Femme d'Afrique*

                  Mary, now I’m curious: have employers not asked for references in your experience? It seems to me that Alison and Snark are using “recommendations” how others use “references.” I could be wrong, of course. I’m just really curious how things have worked in your line of work!

                3. Mary*

                  In most HR-led recruitment processes, referencee are taken once you’ve decided who you want to hire, to confirm their previous employment history and check there were no documented problems, rather than as part of selection. There are some fields where letters of recommendation can be part of the selection, but they’ll be strictly professional.

                  Some companies operate one of those things where they encourage staff to get their family and friends to apply, but I’ve only ever heard of it operating as introduction or recommending the company to the family and friends. I’m sure there are going to be informal situations where Wankeen says, “hey, my brother Mankeen has applied, he’s great!” and the manager is disposed to look on Mankeen favourably because Wankeen is a valuable employee, and it’ll reflect badly on Wankeen if he’s not, but officially all candidates would be treated equally and Wankeen certainly wouldn’t be held responsible for thinking well of his brother!

          2. Hellanon*

            Oh absolutely. I have spent most of my working life in an industry where reputation & personal contacts are everything. Most of my job opportunities have come through my network & I am super careful how I share that network with others, because my recommendation *does* mean something. I won’t recommend someone I don’t trust to to do what I am saying they will – it’s not worth it to me.

            Having said that – “faaaamily” is a complicating issue when it comes to crossing streams between family & work. That’s why strict anti-nepotism policies make so much sense.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Because when you’re faced with dozens or hundreds of resumes/applications, having someone who is a known quantity say “here’s this person I know who is looking for a job” could save you hours of work. There’s a reason why “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a common phrase.

    2. Elsajeni*

      Well, part of it is that they do expect you to have done that “thinking about who I know who has these skills” step, and more broadly “who I know who would make a good employee” — if the person you recommend turns out not to actually have those skills, or has some other glaring problem as an employee (they frequently show up two hours late to work, they insist on bringing their poorly-trained pet monkey everywhere with them, etc.), then the employer has some responsibility to screen them out in the interview process, but it’s also reasonable for them to think, “Uh, did Q not… notice this monkey? Is she also the kind of person who thinks it’s totally fine to bring a misbehaving monkey to work? She’s seemed fine so far as an employee, but is that just because monkeys haven’t come up before, or was this really and truly a one-time oversight?”

  46. The Smile on a Dog*

    LW, I’m so frustrated and sad that this has happened to you. No good deed goes unpunished and all that. I hope you can find some support and peace, and that things work out with your job. Please do keep us updated. Best of luck.

  47. Taking the Unpopular Opinion*

    I know this is going to be a mean thing to say but I have some empathy for the employer. It’s possible that they put aside their reservations in the hiring process assuming that the LW was saying that her sister was turning her life around.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this will ever totally blow over. In this case, it’s not just a matter of a poor referral, there will always be the question of whether or not the LW was in on the theft. While things may return close to normal, the situation is one of those things for which there will be a very long memory and never go completely away. If the LW has managements aspirations, then I would recommend starting to look for a new job because it’s probably never going to happen there.

    As for the rest of us, this is a good reminder that oure players do want our referrals so we need to remember that they are a reflection of us.

    1. Bea*

      I am in the same boat as you are. As someone who has hired and seen people squeak in and totally blow up in our company’s face I too know why the company is mad right now.

      Everyone is to blame here and I don’t think it’s something that blows over when it’s gotten so massively intense and to the point of burglary.

  48. Robin Sparkles*

    This is one of those rare issues that I can see both sides of. I feel for LW because she feels terrible about it. It sucks when the people who you are supposed to trust fail you. But I understand this company’s perspective and agree that LW made a terribly bad judgement call. Also LW- there are definitely things you posted in comments that make me wonder if you still don’t quite understand the magnitude of what you did. I know it’s hard but if you take your relationship out- you misled the company by leaving out crucial information because the crime didn’t fit in the questions they asked. We don’t look for loopholes when it comes to recommendations! From the company’s view,it looks like you can’t keep a clear head when it comes to family –what else would you have blinders on for (I am NOT saying this is true- just that this is likely what company is thinking).

    What I don’t agree with is that the company is so furious with her – when they also should have done their part when reviewing references. That seems like a learning opportunity here that I hope they take. But – since LW has no control over that (and mentioning this would be yet another strike against her) – advice everyone gave is great as usual. Do your work, keep head down, but still keep feelers out. Hopefully this blows over.

    1. Robin Sparkles*

      Forgot to mention that I also find it concerning that clients know… I suppose if this crime was in the news and everyone knew about it -sure -but the company shouldn’t be throwing her under the bus. Unless we are missing information – did LW keep her mouth shut after sister started getting worse? It makes the company look bad if they are pointing fingers and blaming employees- the company needs to take responsibility publicly (while privately speaking with LW that promotions and other things are off the table)

      1. Kate 2*

        Eh, people talk. It’s not right, but all it takes is for one person at the company to tell one person outside of it, and blam-o! Sis is the talk of the industry.

        And to be fair for the company, they might have had to explain to their clients how such an awful person who swore at them got hired while begging them not to leave. Depending on how the industry is (tiny according to LW), they might have been ruined if they didn’t tell, if they let clients believe management hired her without a strong reference/recommendation.

    2. Luna*

      I agree with your first paragraph, and to be honest I can understand why the company is so mad. The company definitely made a mistake by allowing a family member to be the only reference (not sure if that is normally allowed or if they made an exception for OP) but they were trying to do something nice for a good employee and trusted her word.

      And while family members should definitely not be allowed to be the only reference, I actually like that the company has a process that allows real entry-level people to get into entry-level jobs. Unfortunately because of the situation with OP’s sister I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets changed going forward.

  49. Lady Phoenix*

    Inforgot to add, OP. It is not your fault your sister acted the way she did.

    If company has issues with drugs, then issue a drug test. It is a good way to weed out candidates that are not so good, and it is a good way for candidates to figure “this may not be for me”.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      But I also get why they might be mad. Stuff got stolen — very inportant stuff— and you were so careful to exclude any red flags when referring her.

      Which is why it would be better to stay until the anger fades. If it doesn’t fade after an appropriate time, then move on.

    2. a different Vicki*

      There’s nothing in the letter saying that the company did have a problem with drugs, only that they have a conservative dress code (suits, cover the tattoos, and natural hair colors only). There are drug users and heavy drinkers who could easily meet that dress code, and complete abstainers with pink hair.

      Yes, if the company has had significant problems with employees using drugs, they might want to do pre-employment drug tests. Ditto if it’s a job where showing up drunk, stoned, etc. would be more of a problem than usual (like operating heavy machinery). But that isn’t general practice, and I don’t think it should be: drug testing costs money, and will screen out good employees who like to smoke a joint on weekends, but let in both heavy drinkers (almost nobody tests for alcohol except in the aftermath of an accident) and people who are irresponsible and regularly late for work even when they haven’t been drinking.

    3. Bea*

      They don’t screen for drugs probably because it’s not an issue until you find someone using at work :(

  50. Ellen N.*

    In reading the original post, it looks to me like the original poster recommended her sister as a way of helping her parents. If the original poster is explaining to her boss and/or her sister’s boss that she helped her sister get a job so that her parents could move to a retirement building; I believe that is hindering her rebuilding trust with her bosses.

  51. Trout 'Waver*

    I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons the sister’s manager is so mad is because they know they screwed up. It doesn’t matter how highly recommended someone is from a family member. You still gotta make sure you’re making good hires.

    And, as a manager, you have to keep a close eye on people when they first start to make sure they fit the culture, doubly so if they don’t have prior work experience, and especially so if you have done nothing yourself to vet them.

  52. phil*

    I’d recommend either of my sisters for any job on the planet, up to and including Supreme Deity. My brother, on the other hand……

  53. HigherEd on Toast*

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, OP. I have a sister who I would never recommend for a job- although she’s not a criminal, she is extremely flaky, struggles with mental illness that she has refused treatment for and which has disastrous effects on her life, holds prejudiced beliefs, and is a compulsive liar- and people in my life who are trying as hard as they can to enable her and take every time when she’s quit a job and then doesn’t get hired immediately as a personal affront. “But she’s a GREAT PERSON!” Yes, under the lashing out and the lying and the homophobia and the racism, sure! But the only thing employers can see are her actions, not the moment when she was three and smiled at our mother.

    I think I would take a hard line on not recommending family members again, and take the temperature of your office if you can. If the anger at you doesn’t die down in a few months, it probably is time to look for another job.

    1. Champagne_Dreams*

      “the only thing employers can see are her actions, not the moment when she was three and smiled at our mother.”

      YES!!!! Thank you so much kind internet stranger for giving me the perfect way to name and understand this concept that I’m struggling with right now as I argue with family about *other* family!

  54. a different Vicki*

    As others have said, it’s probably a bad idea to tell your manager that you’ll never recommend anyone again. That doesn’t make it a bad policy, at least until you get a better handle on who you should recommend. Instead of saying this to your boss or coworkers, you can just quietly decide (say) “I won’t recommend anyone until the end of next year, and even then, nobody I’m related to, or who I don’t have a reason to think will do a good job.” (In the short term, a recommendation from you is unlikely to help a candidate, anyhow.)

  55. J*

    LW, I would like to agree with the advice that others have posted about apologizing genuinely and profusely, then continuing to do great work so that you eventually leave on a good note.

    At a former job, I was under a lot of stress at home and at work (including family issues with a sister like yours) that weighed heavily on me, as someone prone to anxiety and depression. During that time period, I thoughtlessly left a piece of equipment unsecured and it was stolen. It was definitely my fault, and the immediate fall-out was horrible. I thought I was going to be fired. In an instant, it seemed like my reputation was ruined.

    Things I did that helped: profusely and genuinely apologizing, acknowledging the risk that my actions had caused, explaining how much I loved my job and wanted to be there and continue doing good work to serve our community, and continuing to work my a$$ off.

    Some good things came out of this experience, so I wanted to share as a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. One, my bosses and the organization acknowledged that our protocols and procedure regarding equipment and storage of sensitive data on portable equipment needed to change, and so we had several trainings and new procedures were put into place. It was painful to sit through those meetings referring to the “incident,” but I survived and the org is hopefully safer moving forward. Two, I worked so hard to prove myself after this that I ended up with glowing recommendations for my next job (6 months later) from these same managers who almost fired me- and they continue to provide strong references for me 2 jobs later.

    I think that showing you understand the gravity of the situation, and demonstrating willingness to continue doing a great job despite the fallout, are most important.

    And again, lots of sympathy for you about your sister. My sister is doing better now, and I hope yours will too someday, but I did have to go no-contact for a while because the stress was really destroying me. It made an impact- after that, she tried a lot harder to demonstrate her commitment to our relationship with actions, not just empty words. Do what feels best for you and your mental health while dealing with all this stress.

  56. Elsadora*

    I blame the parents. They enabled their daughters behavior, and I have a sneaking suspicion they like put pressure on the functional daughter to get her sister , a job, any job as a way of ridding themselves of her.

  57. Doreen*

    I think they are actually using it slightly differently than “reference” in that they are using “recommendation” to refer to the situation where the hiring manager actually knows and trusts the person giving the recommendation. There’s a difference between a reference from someone I don’t know who I called because they were listed on the application, and someone I know and trust telling me “You should talk to so-and-so. She’s really good at X and Y”. I’m going to give a lot more weight to what someone I know tells me than I will to a reference from someone I don’t know , who for all I know wants to get rid of his/her problem and make them mine*. I can’t even imagine someone I trust calling my attention to an applicant and not recommending them – what would be the purpose?

    * and yes, that really happens where I work.

  58. Boy oh boy*

    Apropos of nothing … at a former job I recommended a friend I’d worked with and she was great. She’d long ago had problems with drug addiction and being unstable (had told her boss to eff off, chucked equipment out a window at work), but I’d seen her be nothing but professional for years and there was not a hint of a problem.

    So do recommend people in the future, but be cautious. It’s wonderful to give people a chance, but only as long as you have solid evidence that they’ve turned things around.

  59. WannaAlp*

    There is a small silver lining in all this: in future, OP will probably find it a lot easier to push back against any requests from their sister, or promises that she’s “changed”, by reminding the sister that she said she’d “changed” before, and she still caused all that trouble for OP at the workplace. Easier for OP to have a shiny spine, and easier to get the sister to back off.

  60. Lauren*

    Agreed on leaving after 6 months if they can’t move past it. You shouldn’t have your career stalled for one mistake out of 6 years of great work – and tell them that when you leave. Maybe they will counter and get you to stay with fresh eyes – but only stay if it seems genuine on their part vs. panicking that you are leaving.

  61. princess nasty*

    I feel like most the debate in these comments about what kind of vetting the company should have done to avoid making this hire is a bit mis-focused… Look, when something THIS shocking happens and does THIS much damage, it’s natural to fixate on any measures that hypothetically could have been taken to prevent it, and to feel like it was unacceptable not to have, but that’s mostly just the bias at play.

    Truthfully, a lot of those things are irrational and over-the-top. You can’t protect yourself from every crazy thing that could possibly happen in life, or thoroughly vet every decision you ever make for any and all possible danger. I would argue that the company’s lack of vetting was perfectly acceptable given the nature of the job (entry-level, no past experience required), they may or may not end up working out but that’s fine! You’re a hundred times more likely to die every single time you get in a car than you are to have accidentally hire anyone even the tiniest fraction of the trouble OP’s sister was.

    Neither party can be blamed for what happened, I just hope the company will come its senses and realize that instead of firing or destroying their relationship with a good employee for no rational reason.

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