Update Employment Practices To Manage Genetic Info Discrimination Risks Under New EEOC Final GINA Regulations

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today issued final regulations (“Final Regulations”) implementing the employment provisions (Title II) of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).  Employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, joint labor-management committees, and others impacted by GINA should carefully review and update their hiring and background check, sick and family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with the updated guidance provided by the Final Regulations to avoid liability under new GINA’s rules governing genetic information collection, use, protection and disclosure  

Effective since November 21, 2009, Title II of GINA prohibits employers of 15 or more employees from discriminating in employment based on genetic information and restricts the acquisition and disclosure of genetic information by covered employers and certain other parties.

Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information.  Under GINA, employees and individuals can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.

Meanwhile, Title I of GINA prohibits group health plans and health insurers from discriminating in eligibility or premium based on genetic information and requires these plans and insurers to protect the privacy of genetic information (Title I) for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009. 

When assessing potential GINA risks and exposures, employers and others covered by its provisions must exercise care not to overlook or underestimate the genetic information collected or possessed by their organizations and the risks attendant to collecting or using this information.  Many employers will be surprised by the breadth of the depth of “genetic information.”  Because of GINA’s broad definition of “genetic information,” its provisions create potential liability concerns for a surprisingly wide range of employment and health plan practices. 

The Final Regulations published today implement the employment discrimination rules of GINA Title II.  The EEOC previously published proposed regulations interpreting Title II of GINA in March, 2009. Concurrent with its release of the Final Regulations, the Commission also issued two question-and-answer documents on the final GINA regulations.  For links to today’s guidance and more details, see here.

Failing to properly address GINA compliance could expose employers to substantial risk.  Violation of the employment provisions of Title II subjects an employer to potentially significant civil judgments like those that generally are available for race, sex, and other federal employment discrimination claims covered by the Civil Rights Act.  Accordingly, employers and others who have not already done so should act quickly to review and update their policies and procedures to manage their new compliance and liability exposures under GINA.  Employers and others covered by GINA also should assess their leave and other records and practices for data that could be considered genetic information and take appropriate steps to safeguard this information to comply with the confidentiality, nondiscrimination and anti-retaliation rules of GINA, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other applicable laws.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance evaluating or defending existing or proposed practices under GINA or with other workforce, employee benefit, compensation, internal controls or risk management practices, please contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor & Employment attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Ms. Stamer

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Group, a Council Member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising and representing employers, health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and plan administrators, consultants, vendors, outsourcers, insurers, governments and others about employment, employee benefit, compensation, and a wide range of other performance, legal and operational risk management practices and concerns.  As a part of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with client to manage risks and defend practices under GINA, the ADA and a wide range of employment discrimination, privacy and other laws.  A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer also publishes, conducts client and other training, speaks and consults extensively on GINA and other employment and employee benefit risk management practices and concerns for the ABA, World At Work, SHRM, American Health Lawyers Association, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, HCCA, Southwest Benefits Association and many other organizations.  Her insights on these and related topics have appeared in Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, various ABA publications and a many other national and local publications. To learn more about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs and publications, see here or contact Ms. Stamer.

Other Resources & Developments

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing other recent Solutions Law Press updates including:

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©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer PC.  Reprint Permission Granted To Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


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