As the date for the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (Pub. L. 110-233) to go into effect for employers has just passed, there has been more press coverage of genetic privacy issues. GINA, which was signed in May 2008 by President Bush, restricts the collection and use of genetic information in a number of ways. I have written previously about genetic data and the questions surrounding its collection and use, whether surreptitious or not. Earlier this year, the Pew-supported Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, released an issue brief on surreptitious DNA testing.
Last month, Matt Williams, an adjunct professor at the University of Akron, opened an e-mail from his bosses about the school’s new rules for hiring and was “absolutely blown away,” he says, “when I saw the reference to collecting DNA samples.”
The university was saying it could ask new workers for a DNA sample — to run background checks. But Williams knew his DNA could also be used to discover the most private of information about his health — like his genetic risk for cancer, heart disease or mental illness.
To Williams, who taught in the School of Communications, it was one more insult in the hard life of an adjunct professor. (He’s an officer in a national organization, New Faculty Majority, that advocates for adjunct professors.) He says adjuncts at the University of Akron sign new contracts from year to year, so he expected to be counted as a new worker the next time his contract came up.
So he quit. […]
The school’s policy seems to violate the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), says Susannah Baruch of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University.
“Most generally,” she says, “GINA prohibits health insurers and employers from using your genetic information against you.” The law went fully into effect Nov. 21, and it prevents health insurers from collecting genetic information to make decisions about the insurance people get or how much it costs. The law also says an employer can’t use it to make decisions about hiring, firing or job promotions. […]
Now, she says, patients need to be educated about these benefits, and employers have to learn that they can’t gather genetic information or family history of their workers.