Do employers have valid grounds for seeking genetic test information about existing employees or applicants for employment?
Pre-employment health screening has long been a feature of Australian employment. Many are required to undergo a medical as a pre-condition of new employment. This is justified on the basis of fitness for the job, the need for employers' to meet their responsibilities under health and safety laws, and the need to control absenteeism and compensation claims. It has long been recognised that these pre-emplyment checks can also be used to discriminate on the basis of impairment or particular susceptibilities.
Genetic testing may take a number of forms. Genetic monitoring involves ongoing testing or workers exposed to industrial hazards such as radiation or toxic chemicals. Susceptibility screening is testing asymptomatic individuals for genetic susceptibility to particular workplace hazards. This is a more controversial area. This can have clear OHS bebnefits, but also has a strong exclusionary focus. A further use of testing might be to provide information about a condition not directly linked to the workplace but which could put the employee, fellow employees or the public at large, at risk of harm. An example might be the late onset nuerological disorder Huntingtons Disease.
The author goes on to examine the reasons that employers are interested in developments in genetic testing (the Human Genome prjoect makes more information available than ever before), current practices in employment, the current legal position regarding employer access to private genetic information, the requirement of consent, anti-discrimination protections and their limits, and then presents the arguments for and against employer access. Options for reform of laws and recommendations for regulation are also outlined.