914335The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) [pdf], signed into law in May 2008, prohibits discrimination by health insurers and employers based on individuals’ genetic information. Genetic information includes the results of genetic tests to determine whether someone is at increased risk of acquiring a condition (such as some forms of breast cancer) in the future, as well as an individual’s family medical history. It is family medical history information that presents the biggest challenge for employers.

In its announcement about the effective date of the regulations, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Acting Chair Stuart J. Ishimaru writes: 

GINA affirms the principle central to all employment discrimination laws – that all people have the right to be judged according to their ability to do a job, not on stereotypical assumptions . . . No one should be denied a job or the right to be treated fairly in the workplace based on fears that he or she may develop some condition in the future.

Specifically, the law prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts the acquisition of genetic information by employers and others, imposes strict confidentiality requirements, and prohibits retaliation against individuals who oppose actions made unlawful by GINA or who participate in proceedings to vindicate rights under the law or aid others in doing so. The same remedies, including compensatory and punitive damages, are available under Title II of GINA as are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the ADA.

Acting Vice Chair Christine Griffin said,

Title II of GINA is an ideal complement to the ADA Amendments Act. With both laws now effective, American workers are protected if they experience discrimination because of their disability or because of impairments they may develop.

To date, employers’ only regulatory guidance for the employment provisions of GINA (Title II) is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, published by the EEOC March 2, 2009. For health plans, which are subject to Title I of GINA, interim final regulations become effective for plan years beginning on and after December 7, 2009.

Employers should be reviewing their employment practices and health plans and wellness plans for compliance with GINA as soon as possible.

Click here for more information about how GINA affects employers.

Click here for more information about how GINA affects health plans. 

Click here for more information about how GINA affects wellness programs.

Click here for information about the new Equal Employment Opportunity Poster that includes information about GINA.