Employment Discrimination Based on Genetic Information

employment discrimination based on genetic informationEmployment discrimination based on genetic information. When you think of employment discrimination cases, you probably think about issues like race, gender and age discrimination. What you may not be aware of, though, is that employment discrimination based on genetics is illegal under both federal law, and California law.

In 2008, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), a federal statute, was signed into law. GINA makes it illegal for both employers and health insurance providers to discriminate on the basis of genetic information. Three years later, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (CalGINA), which amended the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. CalGINA is significantly broader than GINA, as it applies not only to employment and insurance coverage, but also to the realms of housing, public accommodations, and education.

Many California employers paid little attention to CalGINA, because they were aware that federal law already prohibited the use of genetic information as a factor in employment decisions. What many of these employers did not realize, however, is that CalGINA made a substantial change to the employment law landscape in California. Unlike GINA, CalGINA places no limits on the amount of damages that an employee can receive, if he or she has been the victim of genetic discrimination. This makes it significantly more important for employers to ensure that they are not using genetic information improperly.

What is Genetic Employment Discrimination?

If your employer (or a potential employer) obtains information about you, or a member of your family, that is related to genetic tests – and uses that information as a factor in any kind of an employment decision – then you have been the victim of genetic discrimination. The same applies if the employer obtains information about your family’s medical history, and uses it as a factor in an employment decision.

It is generally illegal under federal law for employers to even request genetic information. However, the EEOC acknowledges six exceptions to this rule:

  1. When an employer inadvertently acquires an employee’s genetic information.
  2. When an employer offers genetic services, and is offered the genetic information voluntarily (although this is only permissible in some situations).
  3. When an employee seeks FMLA leave in order to care for a family member.
  4. When an employer obtains genetic information through commercially and publicly available documents, such as newspapers. (However, it is impermissible for an employer to use these sources for the purpose of finding genetic information about employees. )
  5. When an employer obtains genetic information through certain voluntary genetic monitoring programs, if the programs are monitoring the effects of toxic workplace substances.
  6. When employers that conduct genetic testing for law enforcement purposes use employees’ DNA for quality control.

Legal Counsel for Employers and Employees

Now that California employers can face substantial damages in genetic discrimination lawsuits, it is well worth their effort to ensure that they have policies on the use of genetic information that are in compliance with both GINA and CalGINA. A skilled employment lawyer can help determine if a company’s policies need revision.

Employees, too, are advised to look into their employers’ practices regarding genetic information. If you believe your rights have been violated, you may wish to speak to an attorney.

Whether you are an employer or an employee, you can schedule a consultation today with the Sonoma County employment and labor law attorneys at Beck Law P.C., in Santa Rosa.


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