genetic testingThis past Saturday, November 21st, the antidiscrimination laws were extended to a whole new group of people when the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”) became effective. (See our previous post on October 16, 2009.) In an editorial on Sunday, The New York Times called GINA an important step in protecting people who have inherited a predisposition to disease by removing a significant obstacle to genetic testing, which can help prevent and treat serious illnesses.

Under the new law, employers are prohibited from asking for genetic tests or taking into account an employee’s genetic background in hiring, firing or promotions. Discrimination is also banned in individual and group health insurance plans. The New York Times sites a survey where 63% of respondents said they would not submit to genetic testing if employers or health insurers could see the results.  By passing the law, legislators are clearly hoping to clear the way for genetic testing, which can warn people that they have a disposition for diseases like cancer, and help doctors adapt courses of treatment to particular patients.

Employers should take several steps now to comply with GINA:

  1. Post the EEOC’s new “EEO is the Law” poster, available at:
  2. Update discrimination policies in include GINA
  3. Review medical forms (FMLA, leave certifications) for compliance with GINA
  4. Review wellness programs to ensure they don’t violate GINA