Genetic Screens For Employment In Our Future?

Medical privacy issues are once again in the news as Apple recently announced they would be offering free genetic screenings for its employees.

HR Dive’s Ryan Golden reports the tech giant made the announcement saying that in partnership with Color Genomics, it will begin offering genetic testing at its headquarters in Cupertino, California. Apple employees will receive free genetic screenings for diseases at the company’s on-site health clinics. The tech giant sees this latest offering as a potential recruiting and retention tool.

While other large tech firms like Cisco, for example, have been offering genetic screening for diseases such as ovarian cancer, some have raised concerned about patient privacy issues as related to employment. According to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees because of genetic information. According to the law, an employer also may not request, require, or purchase genetic information on their workers, applicants, or their families except under extremely limited circumstances.

Both representatives for GINA and the Americans with Disabilities Act are concerned with patient privacy.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as the HIPAA law, requires that employers and HR professionals keep employee health records confidential.  GINA and the ADA say that it is essential for companies to make their employees understand that the release of such genetic information, for example, is being given voluntarily, and not in any way being used to make an employment decision. If the employee does give companies such information voluntarily, however, the organization is protected against liabilities because the employer had not specifically requested it.