Employment

The tragedies of race and sex discrimination illustrate the dangers of basing employment decisions on inborn characteristics. Like these, discrimination on the basis of genetics ignores the present abilities and health status of workers and substitutes questionable stereotypes about future performance.

Basing employment decisions on genetic status opens the door to unfounded generalizations about employee performance and increases acceptance of the notion that employers need to exercise such discrimination in order to lower labor costs. Indeed, without countervailing equitable forces, employers face economic pressures to identify workers who are likely to remain healthy. Less absenteeism, reduced life and health insurance costs, and longer returns on investments in employee training all reduce the costs of labor. To the extent that employers believe that genetic information can help identify workers who have a “healthy constitution,” they have strong economic incentives to screen applicants and workers.

Such policies victimize all workers. Discrimination against individuals with particular genetic characteristics harms all workers by diverting attention from the need to improve and, if possible, eliminate workplace and environmental conditions that contribute to ill health for everyone. Moreover, such genetic discrimination masks the fundamental need for adequate leave policies and insurance coverage as well as for reasonable workplace accommodation for all workers who experience temporary or permanent disabilities, for whatever reasons.

Currently, most Americans who have health insurance receive it through their place of employment. As the costs of health care continue to rise, employers may perceive an economic incentive to hire employees who they believe are least likely to have future health problems. A 1989 survey commissioned by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) documented at least five Fortune 500 companies that were conducting genetic screening on their employees. Absent strong laws, some employers might use these tests to avoid people they fear will be “bad risks.”

The California consumer does have strong genetic privacy protections in the area of employment, though violations of these laws can, and will occur.

This section will inform you of your genetic privacy in employment protections.