Lessons from Kobe: Employing Family Members | Tips to Consider

Sadly, one year later, we continue to mourn the deaths of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others from a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020.

Not surprisingly, since Kobe’s death, his widow Vanessa has been embroiled in various legal battles that include a wrongful death lawsuit against the helicopter company, an invasion of privacy lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after deputies allegedly shared graphic pictures of the victims, and more recently a lawsuit filed by Vanessa’s mother that claims the former Lakers star had promised to take care of her indefinitely. According to Bryant’s mother-in-law, Sofia Urbieta Laine, Vanessa didn’t hold up that commitment after Kobe’s death and ordered her to move out of the home Kobe allowed her to live in.

Laine is suing her 38-year-old daughter for financial support after she claims she worked for years as an unpaid personal assistant and nanny to the family. Laine also claimed she worked long hours without breaks or meals including holidays and weekends without pay, according to a report from TMZ.

In the same report, Vanessa called her mom’s lawsuit “frivolous, disgraceful, and unimaginably hurtful.” She claims, Laine was never a personal assistant or nanny for the family and “only watched her children from time to time as most grandparents do.” Vanessa also said, her mother is now seeking back pay for two-decades of claimed unpaid work and is demanding $5 million, a house and a Mercedes SUV.

While an estate the size of Bryant’s is uncommon, it’s not out of the ordinary to see family members hire their relatives to help with their business or personal affairs. Employing a family member can come with benefits like an added trust level, but it also has its downfalls. Here are a few tips to consider before employing a family member.


1. Clarify the Nature of the Relationship

Remember that family members can be employees also.  When asking a family member to assist with your business, especially if it’s on a regular basis, be sure to speak with the family member to clarify the relationship.  Is the family member volunteering their time?  Do you pay the family member for their support or services (even if not on the payroll), and/or does the family member expect payment in exchange for their support or services? 

2. Observe Federal & State Labor Laws

Even if a family member agrees to “volunteer” their time, if the family member is doing work that you might normally hire another person to do, the family member could be considered an employee, requiring you to observe current federal and state labor laws.  At a minimum, this means you must observe the anti-discrimination and harassment laws, the wage and hour laws requiring you to pay the family member at least the minimum wage and to provide required rest and meal break periods, among other legal requirements.

3. Document the Relationship

Although you may want to have an informal relationship with your family member, it is best practice to document the relationship.  You should develop a job description and have the family member complete an employment application. You should also issue the family member a formal written offer letter detailing the nature of the relationship and terms of employment.

Unfortunately, the employment lawsuit by Kobe Bryant’s mother-in-law is a reminder that we cannot take any relationship for granted, even a family relationship.  Be sure to get good legal advice when employing family members and ensure you are observing all legal and other requirements for having employees.

For more information regarding resources for employers, businesses, and employees during this time, connect with me on LinkedIn for new updates, or contact me here. 

Experienced Employment Law Attorney, Mediator, Arbitrator, Investigator, Legal and Media Commentator 

Twice-named a U.S. News Best Lawyer in America for employment and labor law, Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment and labor law attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and certified workplace and Title IX investigator (AWI-CH) in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, Title IX, hazing, and bullying issues.

Angela is a regular legal and media commentator and analyst and has appeared on such media outlets as Entertainment Tonight, Law and Crime with Brian Ross, Court TV, CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox 11 News, KTLA-5, the Black News Channel, Fox Soul – The Black Report, NPR, KPCC, Airtalk-89.3, KJLH Front Page with Dominique DiPrima, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, Yahoo! Entertainment, People Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Los Angeles Sentinel, LA Focus, Daily Journal, Our Weekly and the Wave Newspapers.

Angela is a member of the panel of distinguished mediators and arbitrators with Judicate West, a California company that represents the gold standard in dispute resolution. She also owns her own dispute resolution law firm, the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles, specializing in the mediation, arbitration, and investigation of employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other workplace claims, along with Title IX, sexual assault, and misconduct, hazing and bullying cases.

For more information regarding resources for employers, businesses, and employees during this time, connect with Angela on LinkedIn for new updates, or contact her here

This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.


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