Genetic Employment Laws
Updated January 2008
Link to: Genetic Technologies Project
States first addressed the use of genetic information in employment decisions in the 1970s and '80s with protections from discrimination for job applicants with the sickle cell trait. Wisconsin was the first state to ban genetic testing and discrimination in the workplace in 1991. Genetic nondiscrimination in employment laws are now in place in 34 states and Washington, DC. The scope and functions of these laws vary widely. All laws prohibit discrimination based on the results of genetic tests; many extend the protections to inherited characteristics, and some include test result of family members, family history and information about genetic testing, such as the receipt of genetic services. Most states also restrict employer access to genetic information, with some prohibiting employers from requesting, requiring and obtaining genetic information or genetic test results, or directly or indirectly performing or administering genetic tests. Some states may also may make exceptions to statutory requirements if, for example, genetic information may identify individuals who may be a safety risk in the workplace.
Congress has not enacted legislation to specifically address the use of genetic information in employment decisions. However, in 1995 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission interpreted "disability" in the Americans with Disabilities Act to include genetic predisposition to disease. Conflicting rulings raise questions whether the Supreme Court would accept this EEOC interpretation. In February 2000 President Clinton banned genetic discrimination in the federal workplace and called on Congress to pass a federal genetic information nondiscrimination law for private sector employment. Legislation that would prohibit discrimination in employment based on genetic information is currently pending in Congress.