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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Issues Proposed Rules for Enforcement of Genetic Nondiscrimination Law

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Issues Proposed Rules for Enforcement of Genetic Nondiscrimination Law

     The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Wednesday issued proposed rules for enforcement of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, "a big step ... toward implementing a ban on genetic discrimination in hiring and promoting workers," the Washington Post reports (Vogel, Washington Post, 2/26).

The law, which former President George W. Bush signed last year, prohibits discrimination based on the results of genetic tests. Under the law, employers cannot make decisions about whether to hire applicants or fire or promote employees based on the results of genetic tests. In addition, health insurers cannot deny coverage to applicants or charge higher premiums to members based on the results of genetic tests (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 5/22/08). The law likely will take effect in November.

At a hearing at EEOC on Wednesday, Stuart Ishimart, acting chair of the commission, said, "The addition of genetic information discrimination to the EEOC's mandate is historic."

Susannah Baruch, law and policy director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, said that some patients have declined to take genetic tests because of concerns about the use of the results. She added, "There are many factors an individual may consider in deciding whether to take a genetic test, but the fear of discrimination must not be one of them."

Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People With Disabilities, cited the need to publicize the law. He said, "We want to be able to tell people who are thinking about having a test that the results will not be used in a way that harms them in their current job or future jobs."

According to Karen Elliot, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, employer groups have concerns that the law might make companies liable unfairly, as "employers could find themselves involuntarily in possession of genetic information through the normal course of their workplace operations."

EEOC likely will publish the proposed rules in the Federal Register this week and will accept public comments for 60 days after their publication (Washington Post, 2/26).

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