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Can I be fired because of my family’s genetic history?

Imagine a scenario where a California employee is suddenly approached by a supervisor. It turns out the employee’s genetic history has been discovered, and the employer learned that the employee’s family contains genetics that are conducive to developing a certain form of cancer. The employee is then terminated from that workplace. If you are familiar with this kind of situation, you should also know it is illegal under federal law.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website states clearly that workers cannot be fired on account of their genetic information. An employer has no right to take your family’s genetic history and use it to make employment decisions. The fact that your family may possess a predisposition for a certain disease or disorder is irrelevant if you in fact do not suffer from that malady and thus suffers no physical impediment to performing your job.

Additionally, genetic information cannot be used for any other aspect of employment decision making. If you are up for a job promotion, you cannot be denied on account of your family’s genetic history. Similarly, you cannot be denied pay, a job assignment, job training, an employment benefit or any other part of your job’s regular employment on account of what an employer may learn about your genetic lineage.

In fact, it is illegal for certain employers to even ask for your genetic information. Federal law under Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) forbids certain employers, such as labor organizations and employment agencies, from requesting your genetic information. They cannot ask you for it, nor can they purchase it from an outside entity. So depending on who you work for, it might be illegal for your employer to even know your genetic information at all.

GINA also protects your job in the event you discover you have been discriminated against on account of your family’s genetic history. If you are fired for filing a discrimination charge against your employer, that firing constitutes wrongful termination and can entitle you to additional damages. Federal law also protects you from other forms of employer retaliation if you protest genetic discrimination, such as being demoted or harassed on the job.

This article is intended to educate readers on wrongful termination and is not to be taken as legal advice.

 

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