Wellbeing & Health

Genetic Testing In The Workplace – A Complete Guide

4 Mins read

Employment screening is a practice that has always remained a debatable topic in the landscape. Throughout these years, the devices and methods used by employers to screen and employ workers have been questioned legally and ethically. 

However, none has sparked so much debate as genetic testing. Genetic tests are generally conducted for job applicants and existing employees to reduce the likelihood of occupational diseases but there is a great deal of controversy associated with this practice. 

In this guide, let us try to understand the pros and cons of genetic testing in the workplace and everything else you should know about it. 

Genetic Testing In The Workplace – A Complete Guide

Genetic Testing For Employment

Scientific advancements have made it possible to use genetic information for the early diagnosis and prevention of diseases. 

Considering this potential, companies have started integrating genetic testing into their health and wellness programs in an effort to bring down their healthcare costs and retain the best talent. 

This type of practice helps employers detect the risks on time and manage them better, thus avoiding the losses and complications associated with them. 

Genetic tests are powerful enough to identify gene-related abnormalities that could place individuals at an increased risk for some diseases and disorders. 

In a workplace, such tests are used as a method to screen applicants who, because of their genetic makeup, are more likely to suffer from such diseases if exposed to certain work conditions and elements. For example, individuals with the thalassemia gene can face plenty of health hazards when exposed to lead or benzene. 

Genetic Testing For Employment – What You Should Know?

Genetic Testing In The Workplace

Organizations generally rely on genetic screening and genetic monitoring for pre-employment and employment testing. Genetic screening is used to examine the genetic makeup of employees for inherited characteristics. 

It detects heritable conditions not associated with the workplace environment. These tests are also used to identify the presence of traits that make an individual susceptible to some disease if exposed to certain elements or environments at the workplace. 

Genetic monitoring, on the other hand, identifies whether an employee’s genes have changed over time due to exposure to hazardous elements at the workplace. Such evidence can be used to make changes to work environments and introduce appropriate health and safety measures. 

The ultimate goal of gene-related testing in the workplace is to reduce or prevent the risks of diseases caused due to genetic damages. Employees can benefit from these practices by receiving timely preventative measures and treatment for life-threatening conditions including cancer and heart disease.

Genetic testing in the workplace is often practiced as a means of reducing the incidences of diseases associated with the occupation. Employers use genetic information to make sure prospective and current employees are not exposed to elements that cause them harm. By reducing such risks, genetic testing helps lower the costs associated with compensation, employee turnover, insurance, reduced productivity, and other liabilities. 

Workers, with the help of this information, can avoid work environments that could impact their health, saving the financial, physical, and emotional implications. However, critics of this practice favor protecting the genetic information of an individual as a right and highlight the concerns and risks associated with genetic testing in the workplace. 

Genetic Testing In The Workplace Pros & Cons

Here are some of the possible benefits of getting genetic testing done in the workplace. 

  • Improved employee health resulting in better morale, less absenteeism, increased loyalty, and better productivity
  • Early detection, prevention, and treatment of diseases
  • Availability of the most effective treatment options
  • Avoiding exposure to elements and environments that could risk employee health
  • Information that empowers employees to participate in healthcare
  • Enhanced quality of life and longevity
  • Encouragement for healthy habits
  • Lower healthcare costs for the organization

Now, let us look at a few potential concerns associated with genetic testing in the workplace.

  • Concerns about privacy and discrimination from insurance companies and employers
  • Probability-based results may create unnecessary concern
  • Loss of job and morale in employees
  • Devastating effects on workers upon finding their risk of developing a fatal disease
  • Added cost of screening for the organization
  • Cost and downtime associated with turning down and replacing applicants 

Examples of Genetic Discrimination

Examples of Genetic Discrimination

While genetic testing is greatly helpful at allowing employers to predetermine whether an employee is susceptible to specific injuries or illnesses, there are ethical implications to this practice. Sometimes, an employer may treat workers differently because of their genetic makeup and their risk of developing a workplace-related illness. 

Such a case of genetic discrimination was reported with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad that forced workers to go for genetic testing to determine if they were likely to get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome \(CTS) to be eligible for applying to the CTS compensation. Though people with a mutated gene have a greater risk of CTS, not everybody with the gene suffers from this problem. 

Workplace discrimination can occur even where applicants are not likely to develop a disease or where the condition does not affect the ability of the worker to perform his task. People are, at times, denied employment opportunities on the basis of such tests. 

An individual was screened to learn that he carried a mutation for Gaucher’s disease and could pass it to his children but not develop it himself. When he added this information to his job application, he was denied the job even when it did not affect his present or future ability to do the work. 

Should any of these be considered a case of not having diversity as a core value?

Genetic Testing For Insurance

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was passed in 2008 to prohibit any discrimination from employers or insurance companies based on genetic information. It prohibits insurers from denying coverage or raising costs based on such results. However, the law does not protect people against discrimination related to disability or life insurance. Moreover, several cases of discrimination from insurance companies are being reported every year. 

Final Words

Genetic testing in the workplace is certainly a great practice for employers. The benefits associated with genetic testing for employees far outweigh any concerns. 

Incorporating such tests into insurance products and employee benefits not only reduce healthcare costs but also improve the quality of life and longevity of workers. 

When done right, this screening method helps organizations create a safer, healthier, more productive workforce without causing any harm to employee privacy and emotions. 

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Editor-in-Chief at Employee Experience Magazine.
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