The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”), which becomes effective on November 21, 2009 prohibits employers from acquiring genetic information about its employees, with certain exceptions. (Follow this link for a summary: Summary of GINA.)
The law will require employers to change their current practices regarding the acquisition of medical information. Practices that have been permissible under the ADA will no longer be permissible on account of GINA. The EEOC’s recently published proposed regulations make this challenge apparent.
GINA includes a broad definition of “genetic information.” It includes not only the results of genetic testing, but also information regarding the manifestation of disease in family members. Family medical histories are often found in medical records. It is lawful, under the ADA, to acquire medical information regarding employees, post-hire. Such information may also be acquired in the context of the reasonable accommodation process, or a fitness for duty process.
The EEOC’s proposed regulations state that genetic information inadvertently obtained as part of an ADA accommodation does not violate GINA. “An individual provides genetic information as part of documentation to support a request for reasonable accommodation under Federal, State, or local law, as long as the covered entity’s request for such documentation is lawful.”
Unless the information is truly provided inadvertently, the employer will violate GINA. According to commentary for proposed regulations, an employer “that asks for family medical history or other genetic information as part of an inquiry or medical examination related to an applicant’s or employee’s manifested disease, disorder, or pathological condition will not be considered to have acquired such information inadvertently.”
GINA and the proposed regulations will prohibit practices previously allowed under the ADA. The comments to the proposed regulations state: “Thus, even though the ADA allows an employer to require a medical examination of all employees to whom it has offered a particular job, for example, to determine whether they have heart disease that would affect their ability to perform a physically demanding job, GINA would prohibit inquiries about family medical history of heart disease as part of such an examination. Such a limitation will not affect an employer’s ability to use a post-offer medical examination for the limited purpose of determining an applicant’s current ability to perform a job.”
The commentary continues: “[Employers] should ensure that any medical inquiries they make or any medical examinations they require are modified so as to comply with the requirements of GINA. In particular, we note that at present, the ADA permits employers to obtain medical information, including genetic information, from post-offer job applicants. As we interpret GINA, this will change on the November 21, 2009 effective date of Title II of GINA: Employers no longer will be permitted to obtain any genetic information, including family medical history, from post-offer applicants. Employers will likewise be prohibited from obtaining this type of information through any type of medical examination required of employees for the purpose of determining continuing fitness for duty.”
The comment period for the EEOC’s proposed regulations ends on May 21, 2009. The proposed regulations can be found at this link: EEOC Proposed GINA Regulations
Christopher W. Olmsted, Esq.
Barker Olmsted & Barnier, APLC