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The EEOC Signals a Renewed Focus on Genetic Discrimination

Added by John Ashby in Articles & Publications, Employment Law on May 24, 2013

The Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) makes it unlawful for an employer to “request, require, or purchase” an individual’s genetic information, which includes the “manifestation of a disease or disorder” in the individual’s family members. The biggest prohibition from the employer’s perspective is that an employer may not inquire into an applicant or employee’s family medical history – a practice that had been fairly common in the context of pre-employment medical questionnaires and examinations.

GINA became law in 2008, but it has not received as much attention as other employment laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), however, has recently signaled that it intends to ramp up its enforcement of GINA.

The EEOC just announced that it has brought a class action under GINA against a nursing and rehabilitation center, alleging that the defendant-employer “requires a class of applicants and employees to provide genetic information in response to questions about family medical history” as part of its pre-employment, return-to-work and annual medical exams of its staff. The EEOC noted in its press release concerning the case that “[o]ne of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, which includes genetic discrimination.”

This case highlights the need for employers to be diligent and remain aware of GINA when formulating pre-hire procedures and requirements. Employers should be sure they are not requesting information regarding family medical history at any time during the hiring process or employment.

For more information about GINA contact John Ashby or call 208.388.4844.