As of November 21, 2009, businesses are required to display a new federal poster in the workplace which reflects the requirements of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”). GINA was signed into law in May 2008 to address concerns over the use of genetic information in the health insurance industry and the acquisition and use of such information by employers. Proponents of the law urged that this legislation will allow Americans to freely undergo genetic testing for diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and mental health conditions without fear of losing their job.
GINA regulations apply to all private, state, and local government employers with 15 or more employees. Some states already have genetic information nondiscrimination laws, but the terms and application of those laws vary greatly. Pursuant to GINA, businesses may not intentionally acquire genetic information from applicants, employees or even former employers (with very limited exceptions). In addition, the law prohibits employers from using this type of information for any decision regarding the terms of employment, including hiring, firing, and promotion decisions.
The new “Equal Opportunity is the Law” poster is available on the EEOC website in English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. This poster also reflects the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act. To obtain free copies of other federal required posters, you should contact the U.S. Department of Labor at (202) 693-0200 or visit DOL’s website.
While GINA seeks to encourage increased genetic testing, which will make it more likely for researchers to come up with lifesaving therapy for disease, its application may catch businesses by surprise. Most companies assume that the law doesn’t apply to it because they don’t actively collect genetic information on their employees or applicants. However, the law defines genetic information broadly and includes information on illnesses obtained through family histories. Thus, it could be problematic to the company that has such information and inadvertently uses it.