Can you be fired if your dad had cancer? by The Career Diva
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Can you be fired if your dad had cancer?

Did you tweet today about your sister’s heart attack, or write a Facebook post about the anniversary of your father’s death from lung cancer?

What if your boss sees it?

Yesterday the government released data on workplace discrimination and not surprisingly the numbers spiked last year.

Disability and age bias charges increased, and the total number of complaints hit a record at nearly 100,000 total filed, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That’s a continued influx of charges rising steadily for the last few years.

What I thought was most interesting about the data was a whole new category on the EEOC’s Charge Statistics list: GINA.

No it’s not bias against B actresses. It’s charges under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, aka GINA.

The law, which took effect in 2009, made it “illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information.”

2010 was the first full-year the EEOC has gotten data related to GINA, and already the complaints are rolling in — a total of 245. I think this number is big even though the other bias categories — race, sex, age, and disabilities — dwarf it because many of you don’t even know this law exists, not employees or employers.

This from a Workforce Management magazine article about GINA:

Recognizing that genetic science would surely explode after the genome was mapped, Congress acted to ensure that biomedical research could make advances benefiting humankind, while individuals would not suffer health insurance or job discrimination based on their newly discovered genetic information.

The EEOC says it was planning for the future, but based on numerous interviews with employers and employment lawyers, it will be far in the future before most people in the workplace achieve an understanding, let alone an awareness of this law. Several corporate spokespeople asked to comment on GINA for this article, responded either that they had never heard of it or that they believed the law did not apply to their industry.

Time for an education! You can not be fired, punished or not hired because your mom had breast cancer or your dad was a diabetic.

You’re all probably wondering how an employer would be able to get such information about your family’s medical history. Well, many of you include this kind of information on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter. I get why you do it in many cases. We all want to share our pain.

This was tweeted this morning by @authormerl:

I am not mourning in anger… I am happy my father is no longer fighting lung and esophagus cancer… Heaven in rejoicing!!

I’ve talked about my sister’s breast cancer, and I’ve also asked for donations for the cause. But it’s definitely something to think about when we tell the world about our family tragedies.

There’s another source of your history as well. Many employees are being asked not to participate in wellness programs and as part of that take health risk assessments, which often include questions about your relatives and their health. I recently wrote about how employers are offering workers incentives to take such tests, and in some cases fining them if they don’t.

It’s legal for you to be asked about family history as part of voluntary wellness programs, said Chris Kuczynski, assistant legal counsel, ADA/GINA policy division for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But, he added, “If you’re going to offer an incentive in connection with a health risk assessment or wellness program, you can’t condition that on whether a person gives you family history or genetic information.”

Here’s a rundown of your rights under GINA from the EEOC.

The law clearly concludes: employees shouldn’t be judged by their ancestors ailments.

The Career Diva


The Career Diva  Blog

Eve Tahmincioglu has been writing about business for nearly two decades and her stories have appeared in a host of publications including the New York Times, Time, Salon.com, and BusinessWeek. She is also a columnist for MSNBC.com where she writes the weekly “Your Career” column. From labor strife in the auto industry to buying funerals online, you never know what topic she’ll tackle next. Her specialties include workplace issues, the small business and entrepreneurial world, and leadership, including interviews with some of the biggest names in Corporate America. She was named one of the top ten career tweeters on Twitter by CareerBuilder and CNN; and CareerBuilder named CareerDiva.net one of the 9 Job Blogs You Should Be Reading.

Eve is the author of the book “From the Sandbox to the Corner Office”, which includes interviews with 55 CEOs and leaders from all walks of life talking about the life lessons they learned from parents, mistakes, career twists and even bad bosses. Eve has been writing about career development and labor issues for nearly two decades as a staff writer for a host of publications such as UPI, Women’s Wear Daily and the St. Petersburg Times. Selected portions of Eve’s book can be viewed here.