Genetic information is information that can be ascertained through the study of a person’s DNA. Scientific advances over recent years have made the use of DNA an integral part of medical treatments and research, criminal proceedings, genealogy, and other uses. We have all heard of persons being exonerated of a crime based on DNA evidence, stem cells being used to treat diseases, and the animal cloning.
Because DNA is at the core of the human existence, how could it not find its way into the workplace? In 2008, Congress recognized the potential for genetic information to become an issue in the employer-employee relationship and passed the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act. This law prevents discrimination against job applicants or employees based on genetic information.
Under the law, genetic information is identified as the following:
- Diseases or disorders that run in families;
- Genetic test information of a person;
- Genetic test information of family members;
- Genetic test information of a fetus of a person or a family member;
- Participation in genetic testing or receipt of genetic counseling by a person or family member; and
- Requests for genetic services.
The Act prohibits employers from using a person’s genetic information as the basis for various employment decisions such as hiring, job assignment, promotion, demotion, discipline, and pay. It also prohibits harassment of an employee on the basis of genetic information. As an example, an employer could not deny employment to a person with a family history of heart disease because it believed the job would be too strenuous.
In keeping with the prohibition against discrimination and retaliation, the Act helps employers by prohibiting them from obtaining genetic information from applicants and employees. There are a few exceptions to this prohibition, where acquisition is inadvertent or is incidental to necessary inquiries. For example, an employer may inadvertently obtain genetic information in reviewing an employee’s request for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Once in possession of genetic information, employers must take great care to maintain its confidentiality or face liability for its inappropriate release.
At Tipp & Buley, we have over 55 years of collective experience defending the rights of employees. If you’ve been denied employment, disciplined, fired, or retaliated against due to your genetic information, please call us. We’ll defend your rights. Call 406-389-4215 or visit us online to set up a one-on-one consultation.