More Practical Advice on the New GINA Regulations

January 14, 2011

By: Kseniya Premo

Last month we posted on the EEOC’s GINA regulations and discussed the inadvertent disclosure exception and family medical history. This post follows up by discussing the impact of the regulations on FMLA certifications and by providing some recommended affirmative steps employers should take now.

As we discussed last month, the regulations recognize that employers may inadvertently obtain genetic information when they request that health care providers complete certification forms to support a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) or an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The regulations, however, create a “safe harbor” for employers who use the following language when requesting medical information to certify an employee’s own serious health condition under the FMLA:

The Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits employers and other entities covered by GINA Title II from requesting or requiring genetic information of an individual or family member of the individual, except as specifically allowed by this law. To comply with this law, we are asking that you not provide any genetic information when responding to this request for medical information. ‘Genetic Information’ as defined by GINA, includes an individual’s family medical history, the results of an individual’s or family member’s genetic tests, the fact that an individual or an individual’s family member sought or received genetic services, and genetic information of a fetus carried by an individual or an individual’s family member or an embryo lawfully held by an individual or family member receiving assistive reproductive services.

Employers should not use the “safe harbor” language when they are requesting information to certify a family member’s serious health condition, as opposed to the employee’s own serious health condition. GINA includes an additional exception that allows employers to ask for “family medical history” when seeking certification of a family member’s serious health condition.

In light of the new GINA regulations, employers should take affirmative steps to reduce the risk of inadvertently obtaining genetic information about their employees, including the following:

  • Update FMLA certification forms to include “safe harbor” language, when appropriate.
  • Include “safe harbor” language on other requests for medical information, such as requests for documentation of an employee’s need for an accommodation and fitness-for- duty certification.
  • Inform health care providers not to gather family medical history or other genetic information during fitness-for-duty examinations or during medical examinations to certify an individual’s ability to perform his or her job.
  • Educate HR personnel, managers and supervisors about what constitutes protected genetic information and how to avoid making inadvertent requests for such information.
  • Ensure that internal policies and procedures comply with the new GINA regulations.
  • Review workplace “wellness programs” to ensure that the health assessment and other forms do not require the disclosure of genetic information without the employee’s prior voluntary, knowing, and written authorization.
  • Post the new EEO poster which contains added information about GINA.
  • Ensure that the genetic information, like medical information, is maintained in a confidential file, separate from the employee’s personnel file.