GINA, Social Media and You

© 2013 Talent Management Magazine
This article originally published in Talent Management Magazine on April 23, 2013

EEOC charges related to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) are on the rise, and social media is one way genetic information can be inadvertently shared in the workplace. While there are no representative cases involving GINA and social media now, the likelihood of this happening down the line is great.

With President Obama’s re-election, the EEOC will likely receive greater funding and as a result step up its enforcement efforts in all areas, including GINA. Employers need to take proactive steps to mitigate GINA-related violations involving social media now lest they end up in hot water down the road.

Many employers and employees alike use social media to share various kinds of information. This could include health- and genetic-related tidbits: good news, such as “Whew! Doc says I don’t have cancer”; bad news, such as “My mother just died of cancer”; or something in between, such as “My biggest fear is getting cancer like my uncle did.”

These online communication tools can pose challenges to employers. GINA, which Congress passed in 2008, throws yet another potential wrench into an HR leader’s path. GINA prohibits discrimination against a job applicant or employee based on genetic information.

HR leaders can keep these points in mind to avoid legal complications:

GINA is focused on protecting employees and job candidates, not employers. GINA is designed to protect applicants and employees from being discriminated against because of their genetic information or the genetic information of their family members. Genetic information includes receiving genetic testing and genetic services and participating in clinical research that includes genetic services. An individual’s family medical history is included because it is often used to determine whether a person has an increased risk of getting a disease, disorder or condition in the future.


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