Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Firms in the Dark over New Law on Workers' Family Medical History

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Firms in the Dark over New Law on Workers' Family Medical History

Article excerpt

Two lawsuits brought against employers recently by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are drawing attention to a relatively new law that prohibits employers from discriminating against a job applicant or employee based on family medical history.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, enacted in 2008, prevents employers from asking job applicants or employees for genetic information, including what diseases their family members suffer from. Such questions are normally part of a doctor's routine interview of patients, including applicants who must take a company- prescribed physical after being offered a job.

The routine nature of the questioning and the newness of the law have left some employers in the dark.

"The larger, more sophisticated employers that have in-house legal counsel are aware of it. Many smaller employers are not aware of all of the details of this law," said James P. Hollihan, an attorney in the Pittsburgh office of Duane Morris.

Mr. Hollihan said it is not unusual for the federal agency to bring lawsuits to draw attention to a new law.

Last month, the commission filed a lawsuit against Fabricut in federal court in Tulsa, Okla. The complaint alleged that as part of physicals applicants were required to have after the fabric distributor offered them a job, they were asked whether their family had a history of heart ailments, hypertension, cancer and other medical conditions.

The agency also alleged that Fabricut refused to hire one applicant because she suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome. The applicant alleged the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the agency investigated her complaint.

As part of that process, the company gave the agency records that "on their face reflected an unlawful inquiry for genetic information" from the applicant, the EEOC stated in the lawsuit.

Fabricut immediately settled the lawsuit without admitting that the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act or the new law regarding genetic information. …

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