Genetic Testing is Off-Limits for Employers with Passage of Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

Today, President Bush signed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, passed by Congress on May 1, which prohibits employers, employment agencies and labor unions from terminating, refusing to hire or otherwise discriminating against employees on the basis of their genetic information. In addition, employers may not request, require or purchase genetic information regarding an employee or the employee’s family except in very limited circumstances. The Act addresses growing concerns about the appropriate use of genetic information, which is more readily available than in the past to the general public through genetic testing for 1,200 diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS. Passage of the Act, which is slated to become effective in November 2009, may open the doors for many Americans who previously held back from testing for fear of being denied jobs or health insurance coverage. It also requires employers to treat such information as confidential medical records, thereby creating the need for more stringent record-keeping.

For the purposes of the Act, which passed 95-0 in the Senate and 414-1 in the House, genetic information means any information about an individual's genetic test, the genetic test of a family member and the manifestation of a disease or disorder in the individual's family members. In those situations where the employer is in possession of genetic information about an employee, the employer must treat such information as a confidential medical record and maintain such information on separate forms and in separate medical files. Pursuant to the terms of the Act, health insurers are prohibited from asking for or using genetic information to make coverage decisions or to set premiums. The legislation has been a long time in the making, with similar legislation introduced in Congress every year since 1995.

Ballard Spahr's Labor and Employment Group lawyers can provide helpful guidance to employers facing new challenges, such as needing to revise policies, because of the passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. For more information, contact any member of the Labor and Employment Group.