The newly enacted Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 ("GINA") adds individual genetic information to the list of protected employee characteristics. Under the law, "genetic information" is defined to include information about an individual's genetic tests, genetic tests of family members, and the "manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members."
GINA generally applies to public employers; private employers with 15 or more employees; employment agencies and labor organizations; and makes it an unlawful employment practice to refuse to hire, discharge or otherwise discriminate against any employee because of genetic information (GINA also prohibits health insurers from using genetic information to determine insurance eligibility or to increase insurance premiums).
GINA requires that employers treat any genetic information they have regarding an employee as a confidential medical record; that is, they must keep the information on separate forms and in separate medical files.
Violation of GINA can subject an employer to a variety of penalties. Accordingly, employers should ultimately update their nondiscrimination policies and employee handbooks to reflect GINA's provisions.
The law's provisions for employers take effect in November 2009, and GINA requires the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to issue final regulations within one year after enactment.