HR Dilemma: Should employers be allowed to take employee genetic information?




In the United States employees may be asked to share genetic information with their employer or face penalties to their employer-funded wellness programmes, if a bill approved by a US House Committee becomes law.



The bill, known as the ‘Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act’, was introduced by Representative Virginia Foxx of the Republican National Committee. It would allow employers to request genetic information from their employees and their family members if they want their health insurance covered.



However, staff may not feel comfortable with sharing this information, yet if they choose to keep their genetic information private, under the legislation, employers could impose penalties of up to 30% of the total cost of employee’s health insurance – The Washington Post reports.



The bill’s fact sheet reads: “Preserving wellness programmes and ensuring employers have the legal certainty they need to help lower health care costs for workers must be part of the process of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with patient-centered solutions. “The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (HR 1313) reaffirms existing law to allow employee wellness programs to be tied to responsible financial incentives.”



The legislation, which is currently under review and still needs consideration by the Senate, has faced a strong backlash. In a letter sent to the committee, nearly 70 organisations said the legislation would undermine basic privacy provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).



GINA was passed to prevent health insurers and employers from discriminating against employees based on genetic information. There is an exception that if this information is shared under employee wellness programmes, according to the law, employee participation must be entirely voluntary.



Dr Derek Scholes, Director of Science Policy at the American Society of Human Genetics, comments: “If enacted, this bill would force Americans to choose between access to affordable healthcare and keeping their personal genetic and health information private. “Employers would be able to coerce employees into providing their genetic and health information and that of their families – even their children.”



A spokeswoman for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce sent The Register the following statement: “Those who are opposed to the bill are spreading false information in a desperate attempt to deny employees the choice to participate in a voluntary program that can reduce health insurance costs and encourage healthy lifestyle choices. “We believe working families should be empowered with that choice, and so did the Obama administration. It is another sad reminder of just how extreme the Democrat Party and their liberal allies are becoming.”



If the bill is passed, employees will have a tough decision on their hands; they’re giving their employer access to extremely personal information which undermines privacy and could potentially lead to discrimination. It also raises a number of questions and could lead to a culture of distrust – why do employers need to know this? Will it affect their rights? Will this information be used or passed on?

Or it could simply be a move to reduce costs by employers, if they’re certain that a large number of employees will be against it, eventually the cost of wellness programmes would decrease.




For advice and assistance with your companies HR policies and practices, please contact HPC on this website or via our social media channels.

Please follow the link to full article on this issue featured on HR grapevine:

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest news and updates

Sign up now