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Genetic information discrimination prohibited in the workplace

Workers in the San Francisco Bay Area may have a number of significant concerns about discrimination on the job, ranging from racial discrimination to gendered harassment and abuse. While many know that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates discrimination issues based on race, sex, age or disability, they may not be aware that misuse of genetic information can also give rise to a workplace discrimination case. The EEOC has provided guidance on the use of this provision, one of the newer and less-used aspects of workplace civil rights law.

The EEOC investigates complaints of genetic information discrimination based on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, a law barring unfair treatment in employment or insurance. Many people are unaware of these protections, and this could be reflected in the low complaint numbers; in 2018, only 220 complaints were received, a tiny fraction of total EEOC volume. It aims to prevent employers from garnering information about family medical history or background and using this to make employment decisions, such as failing to hire an employee, firing them or demoting them because they could be more expensive to insure.

Some issues that have arisen around genetic information discrimination include gathering information about family history in employer wellness program or seeking additional information in a fitness for duty exam that goes beyond job requirements. While employers are allowed to gather some of this information for voluntary programs, they must have policies in place to direct the storage and confidentiality of this data.

Workers continue to face discrimination based on sex, race, religion or disability, and with the rise of popular DNA test registries, there may be more concerns to come about genetic information. Employees who have been subject to workplace discrimination might benefit from consulting with an employment law attorney about their options to seek justice.

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