Decoding the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

A management professor explains why he dreams of GINA

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On Nov. 21, 2009, Americans with a genetic medical condition will no longer live in fear of discrimination from their employers because of their unique genetic code. On that date, The Genetic Information Nondiscrimation Act (GINA) goes into effect, prohibiting employers from discriminating in terms of hiring, promotion, firing or any other terms and conditions of employment based on an individual’s genetic code.

“Prior to the passing of GINA, there was no direct prohibition against using genetic information as the basis for discriminating against individuals,” explains William McDevitt, J.D., a professor of management at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “While the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provided some protection to job applicants who had abnormal physical traits or symptomatic genetic disorders, those with an asymptomatic genetic disease, or predisposition, were not directly covered,” he says.

As an example, McDevitt proposed a situation where an employee’s parent suffered from Huntingdon’s disease, an incurable degenerative genetic disease, which causes involuntary shaking, weight loss and difficulty speaking. The employee has a 50 percent chance of carrying the genetic defect that leads to the disease. Without GINA, not only could an employer discriminate against that individual, but a group health insurer would also be within its rights to treat that employee differently – even if that employee is not symptomatic.

McDevitt brings attention to the ongoing scientific work that increases our knowledge and ability to treat defects in the human genome.

“Researchers have made great advances in mapping the human genome, giving the medical community and patients access to life-saving information,” says McDevitt. “Thanks to GINA, employees will now have the freedom to access information about their health, without risking penalty from their employer or group health insurance provider.”

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