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Understanding genetic information discrimination 

On Behalf of | May 9, 2024 | Workplace Discrimination

The potential for misuse of sensitive genetic information can have profound implications in the workplace. For example, an employer might unlawfully discriminate – in hiring, employment practices or termination scenarios – based on an individual’s genetic information. Although doing so would violate federal protections outlined in the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008, it could happen. 

Genetic information discrimination involves an employer using an individual’s genetic information to make adverse employment decisions. GINA was enacted to prevent discrimination and to protect individuals’ genetic privacy in both health insurance and employment settings.

Examples of unlawful discrimination of this kind

Employers found violating GINA can face serious legal repercussions, including compensatory and punitive damages. Nevertheless, the following kinds of discrimination still occur in workplaces from time to time:

  • Hiring decisions: For example, if a job applicant is asked to provide genetic information or family medical history as part of a pre-employment health screening and then is not hired because the employer fears they might develop a genetic condition, this constitutes discrimination.
  • Work assignments: For example, if an employer learns that an employee has a genetic marker for Huntington’s Disease and subsequently decides to limit that employee’s career advancement opportunities due to assumptions about future health declines, this would be discriminatory.
  • Insurance and benefits: If an employer uses genetic information when making decisions about eligibility for health insurance or other benefits, or to set different terms for individuals who may have a higher genetic risk for certain conditions, this would violate GINA.

Although genetic information discrimination is rare, it does happen. Those who are concerned about potential violations of their rights may benefit from seeking personalized legal feedback about their circumstances. 


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