GINA protects your genetic data from discriminatory uses

Frank S. Clowney III

Without question, California employers have the right and responsibility to perform background checks on potential employees. Employers can check a variety of sources for information, including readily accessible public records. However, employers should not use any resource in an attempt to breach a person’s medical privacy in order to make hiring decisions.

In recent years, concern has been raised about employers discovering medical information about employees and potential employees based on the results of genome sequencing. Basically, the process of genome sequencing produces data pertaining to a person’s genetic makeup. The medical community is finding great value in collecting such data. The hope is that, one day, this process can be routinely used to help provide people with very specific and personalized medical care.

In addition, there are those in the medical community who feel that open public sharing of people’s genomic information online can help aid in the research of different conditions and diseases. While this idea certainly has noble intentions, it could leave the door open for potential misuse of the information. For example, an employer could choose to not hire an applicant based on some medical issue demonstrated in his or her publicly accessible genomic record.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act enacted in 2008 was created to address this issue. GINA legally forbids employers from discriminating against people on the basis of their genetic information.

Perhaps access to genomic data does not seem a major concern. But understand that the practice of genomic sequencing is becoming more common as technological advances are leading to lower prices for carrying out the procedure. It might just be that one day genetic information could be as common an individual identifier as a Social Security number. But unlike a social security number, your genomic data can directly reveal a great deal of personal health information.

You have a right to your medical privacy. Employers are prohibited from committing discriminatory acts based on information gleaned from your private records. Should you suspect that an employer has accessed your records for improper purposes, you may wish to consider consulting with an attorney who focuses on California employee rights issues.

Source: Oxbridge Biotech, “OBR-San Diego: realizing the potential of genome sequencing, while ensuring privacy of genetic information,” Josh Wallom, April 15, 2014