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What You Need to Know About Genetic Information Discrimination

Most people have heard of discrimination based on race, sex, age, and disability. However, you may not have ever heard of genetic information discrimination unless you have been a victim of this sort of illegal employment practice or know someone who has.

Most people have heard of discrimination based on race, sex, age, and disability. However, you may not have ever heard of genetic information discrimination unless you have been a victim of this sort of illegal employment practice or know someone who has.

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(Photo Credit: Miki Yoshihito/Flickr)

What Is Genetic Information Discrimination?

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Genetic information discrimination is of course, discrimination based on genetic information. So the question is, what is genetic information? According to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), genetic information is information about an individual and his or her family’s genetic tests and any information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in a person’s family members. Genetic information also includes a person’s request for or receipt of genetic testing services, or a person’s participation in clinical research that involves genetic testing. Finally, it also includes genetic information of fetuses. A discriminatory employer could use this information to make assumptions that a person has a medical condition or may develop a medical condition, and use that as a reason for taking an adverse employment action against the individual.

That would be genetic information discrimination.

An example of genetic information discrimination would involve someone who may carry a gene for Huntington’s disease. If an employer were to find out that this person’s parent died as a result of Huntington’s disease, or were to find out that a genetic test revealed that the employee carried a gene that indicates he or she will have Huntington’s disease, and the employer then took an adverse employment action toward the employee, that would be genetic information discrimination. This could be the case where any medical condition with a genetic component is involved. Other examples would be certain types of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of breast cancer.

What Does GINA Prohibit?

GINA makes it illegal to discriminate based on genetic information in any aspect of employment. This includes discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits, or any other condition of employment. This federal law applies to employers who have at least 15 employees. Your state may have additional protections in place in case you are not covered by the federal law. GINA also forbids harassment based on genetic information and forbids retaliation for making a claim or otherwise opposing genetic information discrimination. The law also includes strict regulations regarding when covered employers can even obtain genetic information. Finally, it is illegal for any employer who is covered by this law to disclose genetic information about applicants, employees, or members.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you know someone who has been a victim of genetic information discrimination in the workplace? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Daniel Kalish
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