President Bush Signs the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

May 23, 2008

After thirteen years of congressional debate, President Bush signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”) on May 21, 2008. This law prohibits health insurers and employers from discriminating on the basis of genetic information. With regard to health insurance discrimination, the law, in part, amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Public Health Service Act to prohibit group health plans and health insurers from discriminating against individuals based on genetic information or services. It also proscribes health plans and insurers from requesting or requiring genetic testing, with limited exceptions. These amendments go into effect one year after the date of the law’s enactment.

In addition, GINA broadens the protections afforded by current federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII. It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees by failing or refusing to hire, or to discharge, any employees with regard to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, based on the employees’ genetic information. Employers are likewise precluded from limiting, segregating, or classifying employees in any way, which would adversely affect their status as employees. The act also prohibits employers from retaliating against any individual for prohibiting an act made unlawful by the law or making a charge or otherwise participating in a proceeding under the title.

Further, an employer cannot acquire employees’ genetic information except under limited circumstances. Employers must also employ measures by which to keep employees’ genetic information confidential and cannot disclose the information, unless one of the six enumerated exceptions applies. GINA similarly applies to employment agency practices, labor organizations, and training programs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), among other federal agencies, has the power to enforce and provide remedial measures under the Act. The employment discrimination laws go into effect eighteen months after the date of enactment of the Act.