Genetic testing has made massive strides in recent decades. People are now able to determine whether they’re at risk for a multitude of diseases and conditions, including certain types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease and bipolar disorder.
Knowledge can be power for someone who discovers that they have a higher-than-normal risk of developing a particular disease. They may undergo earlier and more frequent screenings, for example, than would normally be recommended. However, in the hands of others, this information can be used to discriminate against someone.
That was the concern of lawmakers when they passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which took effect in 2009. The law actually deals with two different types of potential discrimination — by health insurance providers and by employers. Title I of the law prohibits insurers from requiring or using a person’s genetic information to decide whether to provide them with medical coverage.
The second part of the law (Title II) prohibits employers from using a person’s genetic information to make employment decisions. For example, a company can’t decline to hire someone because it’s learned that they have a higher-than-average risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Like other federal discrimination laws, GINA isn’t applicable for every employer. For example, employers with under 15 workers don’t have to abide by the law.
Of course, no genetic test can predict the future. Therefore, it’s not only illegal to make employment decisions based on someone’s test results — it’s unwise. In fact, a person who’s gone through the time and expense of undergoing this testing may well be more conscientious about their health than most people.
If you’re an employer that’s required to abide by GINA, it’s essential to understand the law. If you’re accused of discriminating against an employee or applicant based on their genetic information, it’s wise to seek experienced legal guidance.