In the 1997 sci-fi thriller Gattaca, virtually every job on earth was determined
by a person’s
genetic makeup. With the map of the human genome now available for download, science
fiction may rapidly become science fact. But U.S. employment laws, to
be phased in this month and next September, have stepped in to attempt
to eliminate this kind of discrimination before it even gets started.
At least, under most circumstances
Welcome to the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008, known as
GINA. Short version: no genetic information obtained by any company can be
used to discriminate against any person in employment or in providing
Where did this law come from? According to the website of the
National Institutes of Health, “the law was needed to help ease concerns about discrimination
that might keep some people from getting genetic tests that could benefit
their health. The law also enables people to take part in research studies
without fear that their DNA information might be used against them in
health insurance or the workplace.”
GINA may very well be a solution in search of a problem, but, of course,
one never knows. There is only one recorded instance of any American company
using genetic information to discriminate in employment, in 2001, and
the EEOC stopped it.
The idea of taking your blood to see if you are fit for a job may seem
somewhat creepy. And GINA makes most instances of that action illegal
and actionable. Nevertheless, blood can be tested for any number of genetic
weaknesses. And there may be some legitimate, work- related reasons to do so.
Genetic testing is allowed under GINA in some seemingly very gray areas.
Some exceptions in GINA that allow testing of this sort include “inadvertence”
by the employer; indirectly obtaining it as a part of a wellness program;
as a part of FMLA certification; and where the employer’s blood
is being monitored for workplace hazardous substances.
Even under those circumstances, all of the information is to be kept confidential.
The health insurance part of GINA begins in May 09. The employment discrimination
part starts in November. GINA does not affect life insurance.
If your employer is asking for blood samples, you may have a cause of action.
Any questions on GINA’s applicability to your employment status
should be brought to an