A computer generated image of a DNA strand under analysis.

Photo credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center at Flickr Creative Commons.

Since many employers in the United States cover a lot of their employees’ medical insurance costs, it is understandable that they want to keep those costs down. But the US House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce has approved a bill that would allow companies to “require employees to undergo genetic testing and disclose the results.” Otherwise, they risk having their insurance payments increased by thousands of dollars.

It’s called HR 1313 and it’s predicated on the idea that genetics can predict diseases, but that is by no means an exact science. Just because someone has markers for a disease doesn’t mean they will develop it, nor are all diseases genetic.  That’s why genetic testing is not going to serve as a reliable predictor of whether or not a person might get sick.

But that’s beside the point because that information is, frankly, nobody’s business. Employers don’t have any right to know anything about an employee’s genes, and they have no right to call for expensive testing to qualify for a job. Employees should be hired based on their skills, not their potential for disease. In fact, there is already a law on the books that protects the privacy of genetic information, but considering the committee voted on purely partisan lines for approval of this bill, it wouldn’t be surprising if it went through.

And there is resistance, at least from the European Society of Human Genetics, which has called for the protection of genetic and health information. They’ve also called for increased transparency, especially if the government decides to try and repeal the existing genetic information law. As it stands, the decision of whether or not to have genetic testing is up to individuals, and it should stay that way, lest companies find a new, discriminatory loophole in hiring.