Is Gattaca Here? What Every Employee Should Know About the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

February 27, 2018
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Advances in science have made it possible to know much more about the internal workings of our genetic makeup. Genetic testing can provide not only information about family backgrounds and ancestry but has also shed important light on genetic causes of many different kinds of serious medical conditions.

Unfortunately, with this additional information comes the potential for that information to be misused. To ensure that employees are protected from being discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of their genetic information, a law that was passed in 2008 and took effect on November 21, 2009. The law was called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and it forbid workplace discrimination connected to genetic information.

Baltimore discrimination lawyers can provide assistance to anyone who believes this law was violated. If you feel you were discriminated against on the basis of your genetic information, give us a call today to find out more about how our firm can help you.

Understanding the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act broadly prohibits any type of discriminatory behavior in connection with genetics. Employers are not permitted to consider genetic information when making decisions related to hiring, firing, compensation, job duties, promotions, terminations or layoffs, fringe benefits, job training, or any other term or condition of employment.

Because genetic information is not relevant in any way to an individual’s current ability to perform work, genetic information is never permitted to be used by an employer to make an employment decision. Employers are also not permitted to obtain genetic information from employees, unless they fall within the following very narrow exceptions:

  • There was an inadvertent acquisition of genetic information, such as when a manager or supervisor overhears someone talking about a family member’s illness.
  • Genetic information (such as family medical history) can be obtained as part of a wellness program offered by the employer on a voluntary basis, if certain specific requirements were met.
  • Family medical history may be acquired as part of the certification process for FMLA leave (or leave under similar state or local laws or pursuant to an employer policy), where an employee is asking for leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
  • Genetic information may be acquired through commercially and publicly available documents like newspapers, as long as the employer is not searching those sources with the intent of finding genetic information or accessing sources from which they are likely to acquire genetic information (such as websites and on-line discussion groups that focus on issues such as genetic testing of individuals and genetic discrimination).
  • Genetic information may be acquired through a genetic monitoring program that monitors the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace where the monitoring is required by law or, under carefully defined conditions, where the program is voluntary.
  • Acquisition of genetic information of employees by employers who engage in DNA testing for law enforcement purposes as a forensic lab or for purposes of human remains identification is permitted, but the genetic information may only be used for analysis of DNA markers for quality control to detect sample contamination.

Genetic information is broadly defined for purposes of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.  Genetic information includes an individual’s request for genetic services, as well as an individual’s participation in clinical research connected with genetics.  Genetic information also includes information about the manifestations of diseases or disorders among family members of a worker, any type of family medical history, or any information about the genetics of a fetus or an embryo.

The law also prohibits harassment as a result of genetic information, including making offensive remarks about an employee’s genetics or about the genetics of an employee’s relative.  If the harassment is serious or pervasive enough that it affects the workplace environment, employers can be held accountable for hostile workplace discrimination unless employers have protocols in place to stop the behavior.

If employees are discriminated against on the basis of their genetic information and they make a report to that effect, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act also prohibits any type of retaliation on the part of the employer for making a complaint, for participating in a discrimination proceeding, or for otherwise opposing discrimination on the basis of genetics.

Baltimore discrimination lawyers can provide assistance to workers in taking action in cases of suspected genetic discrimination. Contact The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. by calling 410-514-6099 or reach us online today.