EEOC investigates genetic information discrimination complaints

Workers in New York may know that they can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they face discrimination due to their sex, race, religion or disability. However, far fewer are familiar with the EEOC’s role in protecting workers from discrimination that’s based on their genetic information. This provision in workplace civil rights law was adopted in 2008 along with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which also addresses discrimination from insurers and other companies. It prohibits employers from using genetic information like family medical history, DNA tests or fetal test results to discriminate against workers on the job.

The provision remains one of the little-used aspects of employment discrimination law. In 2018, there were only 220 complaints that were filed related to genetic information discrimination, amounting to only 0.3% of all EEOC complaints that were received that year. This may be due to a lack of concern, but it could also be linked to little knowledge or understanding of this type of protection. Employers are prohibited from using genetic information to discriminate against workers in terms of hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs or other employment actions. Specific concerns have been raised about employers terminating workers due to concerns that they will be more expensive to insure because of their family medical histories.

There are some exemptions to the law that allow employers to retain genetic information even after lawsuits challenged the collection of family medical history during employer-sponsored wellness programs. However, they are required to keep this data confidential and shield it from employment decisions.

People continue to experience a wide range of discriminatory behavior on the job ranging from sexual harassment to racial exclusion. An employment law attorney can provide guidance on how their clients can move forward to pursue a claim against a company responsible for workplace discrimination.