Wednesday, December 2, 2009

GINA Arrives!

The "Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008" (GINA) went into effect last week, on November 21, 2009. GINA covers all private, state and local government employers who employ fifteen (15) or more employees, and prohibits such employers from: (1) taking any adverse employment action against an employee or prospective employee because of genetic information; or (2) limiting, segregating, or classifying employees in any way because of genetic information, which would deprive or tend to deprive the employee of employment benefits or which would adversely affect the employee's work status. With some limited exceptions (such as for use in an employer-offered health or wellness program), GINA also prohibits covered employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information about their employees or the family members of employees.

"Genetic information" under GINA is defined relatively broadly, and refers to information about an employee's genetic tests, genetic tests of an employee's family members, or the manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of an employee. Note also, that the term "family member" of an employee is defined under GINA as "any individual who is a first-degree, second-degree, third-degree or fourth-degree relative" of an employee, i.e., an employee's parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, and great-great-grandparent.

For violations of GINA by an employer, the statute provides for various damages and remedies such as compensatory damages for future monetary losses, emotional distress, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, punitive damages, attorneys' fees and expert witness fees. GINA does not allow for the recovery of backpay or interest on backpay.

The provisions of GINA are enforced by the EEOC. For more information on GINA's requirements and prohibitions, visit the EEOC website at http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/genetic.cfm