What is genetic information discrimination?

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2020 | Firm News

Through research, scientists are learning more than ever before about how your genetic makeup affects you throughout your entire life, whether for good or ill. In some respects, this information can be incredibly valuable. For example, it can help to develop health programs and treatments for diseases specifically tailored to your genetic profile. 

However, your genetic information is some of your most personal data. A current or prospective employer who gains access to it could use that information to discriminate against you. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, federal law restricts access to your genetic information and prohibits discrimination by an employer because of it. 

What adverse treatment might you receive on the basis of your genetic information? 

If your genetic information, or that of family members, became known, you may endure harassment in the form of derogatory or offensive remarks. Prolonged ridicule on the basis of genetic information could come from your co-workers as well as your employer if the information were to become widely known. 

Your employer could also make discriminatory employment decisions on the basis of your genetic information. For example, your employer could deny you health insurance or refuse to hire you because of a genetic health condition or predisposition to developing one. However, your genetic information is not relevant to your ability to work, so the law prohibits your employer to make decisions on account of it. 

How does the law protect your genetic information? 

The law prohibits an employer from purchasing your genetic information from a party authorized to have it. It also prevents your employer from making disclosure a requirement or from requesting the information from you. There are some exceptions, such as when you are requesting FMLA leave to care for a family member who is ill. There is also no penalty if your employer finds out genetic information about you inadvertently.