Genetic Privacy in the Workplace

Today’s media outlets, in all political spectrums, have been drawing attention to the imminent repeal and replacement of Obamacare – but that is not the only issue at hand. Under a new, little-noticed congressional bill introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, known as the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (H. R. 1313), employers could rightfully demand genetic testing results from employees.

With a jungle of information out there we want to distill what this means for businesses and their employees.

Here is a summarized fact sheet for everything you need to know about the bill:

  • Supporters of the proposed bill believe that it would bring uniformity and consistency to the regulation of wellness programs.
  • If passed, H. R. 1313 would permit employers to provide health insurance premium rebates to employees who participate in workplace wellness programs.
  • Employers also could penalize any employees who opt out by up to 30% of the total cost of their health insurance.
  • Employers are not allowed to force employees to be tested or submit screening results. It should be entirely voluntary.
  • Employers could explicitly collect genetic information on employees’ family members and share that data with third parties.
  • Opponents are outraged at the infringement of preexisting laws that seek to protect genetic confidentiality.
  • Concerns have been voiced regarding how the screening results can be interpreted by employers.
  • The availability of such sensitive information could expose employees to bias and discrimination in the workplace.
  • It is still unclear as to how having access to genetic testing results could help employers control spending or improve health outcomes through wellness programs.

Genetic profiles can reveal more information than you think – whether you have a predisposition for a disease, have a disability or you are pregnant. It comes down to the choice between losing money (still yet to be proven) to keep health information undisclosed or losing privacy to access affordable wellness program costs.