On November 21, 2009, the provisions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) became effective. Generally, GINA prohibits the use by employers and health care plans from discriminating against employees through the use of genetic information.
In the first instance, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the provisions of GINA relating to employment discrimination, genetic information under GINA includes:
Genetic information includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about any disease, disorder, or condition of an individual’s family members (i.e. an individual’s family medical history). Family medical history is included in the definition of genetic information because it is often used to determine whether someone has an increased risk of getting a disease, disorder, or condition in the future.
In summary, GINA forbids employers from making employment decisions about employees, such as hiring, firing, affording benefits and decisions regarding any other term and condition of employment on the basis of genetic information. Likewise, GINA forbids harassment of employees because of genetic information.
GINA further prohibits employers from acquiring genetic information, with the exception of a few very narrow exceptions. Even when an employer lawfully acquires such information, GINA places strict confidentiality requirements on an employer.
According to the National Human Genome Research Project, GINA will “pave the way for people to take full advantage of the promise of personalized medicine without fear of discrimination.”