Genetic information

You have protections against discrimination.

You have protections against discrimination concerning your genetic information, which includes family medical history. Covered employers can’t use genetic information (such as genetic tests of you or your family members, your family medical history, or your request for, or receipt of, genetic services such as genetic counseling) to make employment decisions.

Employment discrimination may also occur when an employer’s seemingly fair policies or practices have a significant negative impact on people because of a protected characteristic without demonstrating the policies or practices are job-related and consistent with business necessity. And discrimination can also occur when you and the person who discriminated against you share a protected characteristic.

It is usually unlawful for your employer to learn about your genetic information. There are six exceptions to this rule, such as overhearing your conversations about your health, or getting your family medical history as part of the process to certify leave under the law. It is also unlawful for your employer to disclose any genetic information it obtains, except in narrow circumstances (such as if you ask in writing for genetic information that is part of health or genetic services you received from your employer or in response to a court order that specifically requests genetic information).

The mid adult female doctor explains the patient's test results to the young adult female family member as they stand in the hospital walkway.

Your employer must keep any genetic information it obtains in medical files separate from personnel files and treat those files as confidential medical records.

You have the right to file a complaint or a Charge of Discrimination, participate in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit, engage in any protected equal employment opportunity (EEO) activity, or oppose harassment or discrimination without being retaliated against by your employer.

You generally have a right to protection from discrimination regardless of your immigration status, although, in some cases, immigration status may limit the remedies that you’ll be able to obtain.

What this means for you

Employers are not allowed to discriminate against you because of:

  • your family medical history,
  • information from your or a family member’s genetic tests (such as a test to determine if someone has a gene indicating a predisposition to certain forms of breast cancer, or a test to determine the presence of genetic abnormalities in a fetus),
  • your or your family member’s request for, or receipt of, genetic services or participation in clinical research that includes genetic services, and
  • the genetic information of a fetus carried by you or a family member and the genetic information of any embryo legally held by you or a family member using assisted reproductive technology.

An employer may never use genetic information to make an employment decision because genetic information is not relevant to your current ability to work.

Examples of discrimination

In general, this means that you cannot be:

  • fired,
  • rejected for a job or promotion,
  • given lesser assignments,
  • forced to take leave, or
  • otherwise disciplined

because of your family medical history or genetic information, including family medical history.

Need more information?
The elaws (Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses) Advisors are a set of online tools developed by the U.S. Department of Labor to help employees and employers understand their rights and responsibilities under Federal employment laws.