Meet GINA (the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act), the most recent civil rights law on the books. GINA makes it illegal for employers to make employment decisions based on genetic information about applicants, employees, or their families. It also generally prohibits employers from gathering genetic information and requires employers to keep confidential any genetic information they obtain through legal methods. Read on to learn more about GINA and the confidentiality of genetic information. (For more tips on protecting your privacy on the job, check out Nolo's Your Right to Privacy in the Workplace topic.)
The nondiscrimination part of GINA is fairly straightforward: Employers may not base employment decisions on an employee's or applicant's genetic information, including the genetic information of a family member. Genetic information includes the results of genetic tests or the manifestation of a particular disease or disorder in the employee's family. For example, an employer may not refuse to consider an applicant because she carries BRCA1 or BRCA2 (the genes thought responsible for most inherited breast cancers) or fire an employee because he carries the trait for sickle cell anemia. Whether the employer is motivated by stigma or stereotypes associated with the disease or by a desire to reduce health care costs, decisions like these are illegal.
With a few exceptions, GINA prohibits employers from requiring or asking employees to provide genetic information -- for example, by requiring genetic testing as a condition of employment. Employers also may not purchase genetic information about employees or their family members.
There are a handful of exceptions to this prohibition on the employer's acquisition of employees' genetic information. An employer may obtain genetic information legally if:
(Note: Even if one of these exceptions applies and genetic information was obtained legally, the employer still may not use the genetic information and must keep it confidential.)
Employers that have genetic information about an employee must keep it on separate forms and in separate files and treat it as a confidential medical record. Genetic information may be revealed only in very limited circumstances and only to certain people, as follows:
To learn more about GINA and the steps to take if you believe an employer has discriminated against you, get Your Rights in the Workplace, by Barbara Kate Repa (Nolo).