HR Support on Genetic Discrimination (GINA Laws)

Editor's Note: Understand employer requirements and obligations regarding genetic information and genetic discrimination.

Beth P. ZollerOverview: Genetic information discrimination involves treating an individual unfairly based on their genetic information.

The Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) as well as many state and local laws prohibit employee discrimination against an individual based on his or her genetic information.

Genetic information is defined as an individual's genetic tests, the genetic tests of the individual's family members and records of the development of a disease or disorder in the individual's family members.

Further, GINA prevents employers from requesting genetic information and limits its disclosure as well unless certain circumstances exist.

Further, employers are required to keep genetic information in a separate file and treat it as confidential.

Trends: Because GINA is a relatively new federal law, employers should be aware of guidance by the EEOC as well as the courts to guide their interpretation of the law.In the past few years, the EEOC has increased its focus on genetic discrimination cases. Specifically, the EEOC has identified genetic discrimination as one of its priorities in its Strategic Enforcement Plan. Further, the EEOC has pursued and settled genetic discrimination lawsuits claiming that employers unlawfully requested that employees undergo medical exams and provide information about their genetic history and family medical history as well as wrongfully used genetic history information to make employment decisions.

Employers should recognize that as science and technology continue to develop and scientists advance in the mapping of human genes and DNA, GINA could become even more significant. Employers can reasonably expect continued questions about the use and protection of genetic information and how it should be handled.

Employers should also be aware of state and local laws that protect genetic information. Employers should also be aware that any employee wellness programs also must comply with GINA.

Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor

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About this topic

HR guidance regarding policies and practices to address the new and challenging area of discrimination based on genetic information.