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Genetic Desc. Additional
Additional HR Resources

Workplace Discrimination
How to recognize and respond to workplace discrimination

Employee Privacy
Where right to know overrides employees' right to privacy

The Law in Your State
What each of the 50 states has to say about laws on genetic discrimination

Genetic Discrimination

With all the advancement in genetic decoding, scientists are developing techniques that can, with increasing accuracy, estimate the probability of contracting many diseases and in some cases predict who actually will fall prey to them. In response, lawmakers at both the federal and state levels are trying to address the various legal issues — including restrictions on how employers and health insurance companies could use that sort of information about workers — raised by these advancements.

Benefits Complete Compliance – comprehensive online management reference service and reference manual

State and federal laws against genetic discrimination in the workplace
Hundreds of pieces of state-level legislation have been introduced since the initiation of the Human Genome Project. Many of those bills have become laws in those states, offering varying degrees of protection against genetic discrimination.

State-by-state comparison of 50 employment laws in all 50 states, including genetic discrimination

President George W. Bush enacted a federal law, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), in May 2008. GINA prohibits group health plans from requiring genetic testing, using genetic information for underwriting purposes and adjusting premiums or contributions based on genetic information. GINA similarly restricts use of genetic information by health insurance issuers offering coverage in the individual market.

GINA’s employment provisions also prohibit the use of genetic information in employment, bar the intentional acquisition of genetic information about applicants and employees, and impose strict confidentiality requirements.

After several delays the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued final regulations that interpret and implement the employment provisions of GINA. These regulations provide specific examples of what employers must do (or avoid doing) to comply. Read the final regulations

HR Guide to Employment Law: A practical compliance reference manual covering 14 topics, including discrimination and health benefits

How does genetic information affect workplace practices?
Regarding employment practices, GINA forbids employers from discriminating against employees in hiring, firing and in the terms and conditions of employment based on genetic information. Insurers may, however, consider preexisting health conditions (as opposed to genetic predispositions) in underwriting decisions.

In addition to state laws, other measures currently on the books could be used to block genetic discrimination, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), A screening for genetic information, for example, is clearly a medical inquiry or exam and is therefore prohibited before making an employment offer. The ADA also protects individuals who aren’t disabled but are thought of as disabled by others.

Title I of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) currently prohibits health insurers from using genetic information about a patient in deciding whether to insure the individual. Without this protection, health insurers could treat a potential customer’s genetic information — a predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease, for example — as a preexisting condition.

Finally, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13145 to Prohibit Discrimination in Federal Employment Based on Genetic Information on February 8, 2000. The executive order adds genetic discrimination to the list of forms of discrimination barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The scope of the order, however, doesn’t reach beyond the applicants, employees, and former employees of executive branch departments and agencies. It doesn’t cover employees in the private sector.