Nine Times It is OK to Gather Genetic Information

As of Jan. 17, federal regulations making it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers or job applicants based on their genetic information went into effect. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created more detailed regulations for the federal law.
As part of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, employers also are unable to request, require or purchase genetic information, and the law strictly limits its disclosure, according to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) and the EEOC. (WCxKit)
Congress passed the legislation, which also deals with potential discrimination in health insurance coverage, in 2008. The EEOC adopted rules for the employment portion in November, and they became effective Jan. 17.
Genetic research has advanced quickly over the past two decades. Scientists mapped out the human genome, which equals all the genes that make up humans, in 2003. The advances, which prompted the law, make it possible for people to learn their potential to develop certain medical conditions based on their family histories, according to a recent BOLI technical assistance column.
Treatment for some conditions can be costly, so concerns arose regarding the potential misuse of genetic information by insurance companies and employers, many of whom pay for their employees' health insurance.
The law covers businesses with 15 or more employees, along with labor unions, employment agencies and apprenticeship and training programs, according to BOLI, and it protects individuals or family members, including fetuses or embryos of those receiving fertility treatments.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act defines genetic tests as those that reveal, for example, a predisposition to breast cancer, colon cancer, Huntington's disease, or screening for cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia.
Employers may test workers to determine if they have alcohol or illegal drugs in their systems. But they cannot test for employees' genetic predisposition to alcoholism or drug abuse.
The law allows several exceptions when obtaining genetic information would be allowed.
They include:
1.     Overhearing the information inadvertently, or in a casual conversation, although probing follow-up questioning would be prohibited.
2.     Employees' participation in voluntary wellness programs, provided employers cannot access the information.
3.     Obtaining medical conditions to verify the need for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
4.     Learning the information from publicly available sources, such as television, the Internet or publications.
5.     Similarly, the law allows exceptions when disclosing genetic information would be allowed. They include:
6.     When it is requested in writing by the employee. (WCxKit)
7.     When giving it to a health researcher.
8.     If it's in response to a court order.
9.     Providing it to government officials investigating compliance with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

Author Robert Elliott
, executive vice president, Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. has worked successfully for 20 years with many industries to reduce Workers Compensation costs, including airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality and manufacturing. See for more information.  Contact: or 860-553-6604.


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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.

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