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When genetic information can be disclosed to an employer

In most cases, genetic information is covered by law, which means employers cannot ask for it, seek it or make employment decisions based on the information. There are some very specific cases where a disclosure of genetic information is not unlawful, though most of these cases still don't allow the employer to make decisions based on the information obtained.

If an employer deals in genetic information--such as labs that identify remains or process forensics for crime scenes--the employer might gather genetic information from employees for the sole purpose of quality control. When employee genetic information is on file, the lab can identify whether a sample could have been contaminated through handling.

Other types of employers might indirectly receive genetic information. An employer or manager could hear about this information accidentally when overhearing staff conversations or the employer might read about the information in a publicly available source, such as a newspaper. This information is not unlawful if the employer wasn't purposefully seeking genetic information to begin with.

Certain types of programs run for or by an employer could legally access genetic information, especially if those programs are voluntary. For example, if an employer offers a wellness program, employees might volunteer genetic information so they can receive more personalized assistance and education through the program. Some employers who deal with toxic substances are required to monitor genetics and other information by law, so they would be allowed to gather such information.

Even if an employer is allowed to gather genetic information or has stumbled upon the information through legal means, they are not usually allowed to make employment decisions based on such information. If you believe you have been wrongly discriminated against because of genetic information, you might have a case for harassment or wrongful termination.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Genetic Information Discrimination," accessed Oct. 30, 2015

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