Aligning itself with several other states, Massachusetts recently passed legislation that amended its state anti-discrimination act. It now protects employees against discrimination in the workplace on the basis of genetic information.
Genetic information is defined to include any individual, written record or explanation of a genetic test of a person's family history in regards to the presence, absence or variation of a gene. A genetic test is defined broadly to include "any tests of DNA, RNA, mitochondrial DNA, chromosomes or proteins for the purpose of identifying genes or genetic abnormalities… ." Tests given for the exclusive purpose of drug and alcohol screening are expressly excluded from the definition, and, therefore, this new law does not affect an employer's ability to perform drug and alcohol tests, pursuant to the appropriate guidelines.
The statute prohibits employers from requesting, receiving or using information about an individual's genetic make up or history in any aspect of employment. Specifically, the statute forbids any employer or labor organization from the following:
- requesting genetic information about an employee or applicant or his/her family as a condition of employment or requesting such information in an advertisement for employment;
- refusing to hire someone on the basis of genetic information of either the applicant or his/her family;
- offering an inducement to an individual to undergo a genetic test or disclose genetic information;
- questioning a person about his/her genetic information or that of his/her family;
- using genetic information in any way that affects the terms and conditions of employment.
The statute also prohibits genetic information from being solicited or utilized in decisions regarding housing or commercial and residential leasing. Hospitals, physicians and health care providers may not test any person for genetic information or disclose the results of any individual test without obtaining prior written consent.
The law goes into effect on November 23, 2000. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is charged with the enforcement of the new genetic information discrimination provisions.
The following states have already enacted similar laws: California, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin. In Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington and Iowa, genetic discrimination legislation was still pending as of the date of this publication.