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Improved Genetic Non-Discrimination Bill Wins Unanimous Support

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Thanks in part to recommendations made by SHRM, new non-discrimination requirements are one step closer to becoming law. The House Education and Labor Committee unanimously approved a revised proposal barring employers and group health care plans from discriminating against workers when it comes to employment and benefits issues.

SHRM believes that employment decisions should be based on an individual’s qualifications and ability to perform a job – not on characteristics that have no bearing on job performance, such as genetics. However, any legislation on this issue must be carefully designed to minimize uncertainties, unintended consequences, and unwarranted litigation in a way that protects employees and employers.

Since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, scientists have been able to identify numerous genes linked to specific illnesses such as cystic fibrosis to cancer. These new advancements, however, have raised concerns among some workers, who fear their families’ medical histories could put their jobs in jeopardy.

SHRM, a co-chair of the Genetic Information Non-discrimination in Employment (GINE) Coalition, worked closely with the Democratic and Republican staffs in the House on modifications to balance the concerns of both employees and HR professionals. Specifically, the amended bill would:

  • Limit the definition of “family member” to those related by blood within four generations.
  • Allow employers to keep genetic and medical records together, rather than segregated, which would have required employers to establish a separate standard for genetic information recordkeeping.
  • Clarify that group health care plans would not be required to offer coverage for all genetic disorders.

Many of the improvements the Committee made to the bill were the result of SHRM’s suggestions.

For more information about these and other public policy issues, please visit
©2007 Society for Human Resource Management

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