In 2004, employer health insurance premiums in the U.S. increased by 11.2 percent – nearly four times the rate of inflation (National Coalition on Health Care). Many employers are trying to combat high costs by hiring applicants with less h e a l t h r i s k s .
The Americans with Disabilities Act and some state genetic privacy and discrimination laws already provide some limited protection relating to access to and use of genetic information in the workplace. However, this protection is incomplete, and employees are frequently asked to agree to the release of information contained in their medical records, which may include genetic test information among other types of personal health data. Genetic testing for a number of common, complex disorders performed in the context of clinical care is expected to expand over the next ten years. As such testing becomes more routine, it is likely that genetic test results will become a standard part of many people’s medical records. Employers in the future may have access to a great deal of genetic information about their workers or prospective workers, and in the absence of stronger legal prohibitions, they will likely use it. Rising costs of health insurance in recent years have caused more companies to be wary of employing workers with higher health risks.
Jean E. McEwen, J.D., Ph.D., Program Director,
Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications Program,
National Human Genome Research Institute,
National Institute of Health
DNA testing will not play a significant role for most hiring in the U.S. However, it will play some role, and for some jobs it will be very important. There are genes that in the presence of certain substances put some potential employees at increased risk in various work environments. It would be good for employees to know that, but for most employees, other features of their background (including current health status) is much more likely to be a predictor for employment purposes than genetic status.
David Magnus, PhD, Director, Stanford
Center for Biomedical Ethics, Associate Professor,
Division of Medical Genetics, Department of Pediatrics
By state statute, Minnesota’s private and public employers are prohibited from collecting genetic information from employees or prospective employees as a condition of employment; nor is genetic information if obtained, to affect any person’s hiring, terms or conditions of, or termination from, employment. I believe that well within ten years, there will be specific federal legislation prohibiting the use of genetic information by all private and public employers. Enforcing such laws is always a challenge, however, I think that due to public pressure, labor organization efforts and a sense of corporate responsibility, large employer associations and other commercial groups will collectively enter into pacts, agreeing not to collect or consider genetic information when hiring and making other employment decisions.
Steven Lapinsky, Case Processing Unit Supervisor,
Minnesota Department of Human Rights