Under a 2009 Federal law called GINA (the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act), employers with 15 or more employees cannot discriminate against employees because of genetic information. That information may include a past or present medical history (for example: breast cancer, diabetes, depression, or colon cancer) of family members. GINA prohibits disclosure of this sensitive information by employers and prohibits the employer from even making a request for such information. If they have this information, it must be kept in a file that is separate from the regular personnel file.
The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has made regulations, effective January 10, 2011, to enforce this federal statute and allows an action for damages, including punitive damages, reinstatment and back pay, and reasonable attorney’s fees.
In the workers’ compensation setting, this information is sometimes gathered by medical experts conducting independent medical exams, by nurse case managers who may seek to find out any and all medical information about the injured worker’s family as well as the injured worker, or by family physicians who have made non-work-related entries in the medical records. However, GINA has allowed an exception to the overall thrust of the legislation by stating that if the information is relevant to the workers’ compensation claim, it can be disclosed. The legislation gives no definition of the term “relevant” and makes the interaction between the health care provider, the carrier, the employer and the employee complicated, to say the least. Lawyers who represent employees and employers should be aware of GINA and protect sensitive genetic information from disclosure, and claimants should make sure their physician is aware of it as well.