Skip to Content

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Youth at Work

Select any of the questions below to get quick answers to some common questions about genetic information discrimination.

  1. What is genetic information?
  2. If I am discriminated against or harassed because of my medical condition, is that genetic information discrimination?
  3. What are some examples of genetic information discrimination?
  4. What are some examples of genetic information harassment?
  5. Is it illegal to be discriminated against or harassed because of genetic information and another prohibited reason, such as gender?
  6. Is it illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass me because of my relative’s medical information?
  7. Can my employer use genetic information to make employment decisions?
  8. Is it illegal for my employer to read my Facebook page to find genetic information?
  9. Can my employer ask me about genetic information during an interview?
  10. Can my employer require me to take leave because of genetic information?
  11. Can my employer restrict me from working with customers because of genetic information?
  12. Can my employer’s doctor ask me whether any of my relatives had particular medical conditions during a medical exam for work?
  13. Can my doctor ask me whether any of my relatives had particular medical conditions during my annual school physical?
  14. Is my employer allowed to share genetic information with other managers or people I work with?
  15. Does my employer have to make changes to the workplace because of genetic information?
  16. Can my employer punish me for reporting what I think is genetic information discrimination?
  17. Do I have other rights related to genetic information?

What is genetic information?

Genetic information includes information about your genetic tests and the genetic tests of your family members. Genetic information also includes information about any disease, disorder, or condition of your family members (your family medical history).

EEOC’s Genetic Information Discrimination page has additional information about the definition of genetic information.


If I am discriminated against or harassed because of my medical condition, is that genetic information discrimination?

No. However, you may be covered by the laws that prohibit disability discrimination, depending on your medical condition.


What are some examples of genetic information discrimination?

Genetic information discrimination occurs when an employer uses genetic information to make an employment decision. For example, it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire an applicant because her grandmother has breast cancer and the employer is afraid that the applicant will be diagnosed with breast cancer, causing the employer’s health insurance costs to increase.

Genetic information discrimination also occurs when an employer unlawfully obtains genetic information. For example, it is illegal for an employer to perform an Internet search to find information about an employee’s family medical history (medical conditions of relatives).

Genetic information discrimination also occurs when an employer unlawfully shares genetic information. For example, it is illegal for an employer to tell an employee’s co-workers that the employee’s father was recently diagnosed with heart disease.

Determining whether genetic information discrimination has occurred may be complicated. If you think the law may have been violated, you can call EEOC at 1-800-669-4000 to discuss the situation. You can also speak with your supervisor or another manager at the company, your parents, your teachers, or another trusted adult.


What are some examples of genetic information harassment?

Genetic information harassment involves unwelcome and offensive conduct in the workplace that is based on genetic information. Genetic information harassment can include making negative or offensive remarks about an applicant or employee’s genetic information, or about the genetic information of a relative of the applicant or employee. Genetic information harassment can also include other verbal or physical conduct, such as offensive or derogatory jokes, gestures, or drawings related to genetic information.


Is it illegal to be discriminated against or harassed because of genetic information and another prohibited reason, such as gender?

Yes. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of the combination of your genetic information and another protected category, such as gender. For example, an employer may not refuse to hire women with a family medical history of breast cancer, even if it hires women without a family medical history of breast cancer or men with a family medical history of breast cancer.

The law restricts employers from obtaining genetic information of applicants or employees, except in a few very narrow circumstances. So if an employer refused to hire women with a family medical history of breast cancer, the employer may be violating both sex discrimination and genetic information discrimination laws.


Is it illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass me because of my relative’s medical information?

Yes. It is illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass you because of your relative’s medical information (your family medical history). For example, your co-worker may not harass you because your brother has Down Syndrome. 

This type of harassment may be both genetic information discrimination and disability discrimination. That’s because one of the laws that the EEOC enforces prohibits discrimination (including harassment) based on genetic information, including family medical history. Another law that the EEOC enforces prohibits discrimination (including harassment) based on a person’s association with an individual with a disability.


Can my employer use genetic information to make employment decisions?

No. Your employer can never use genetic information to make employment decisions, such as hiring, pay, promotion, suspension, or termination decisions. That’s because genetic information is never relevant to whether a person is able to perform a job.


Is it illegal for my employer to read my Facebook page to find genetic information?

Yes. It is illegal for your employer to read your Facebook page or other material online or in print (such as magazines or newspapers) with the purpose of finding genetic information, such as whether your relatives have medical conditions.


Can my employer ask me about genetic information during an interview?

No. It is illegal for your employer to ask you about genetic information during an interview. For example, your employer may not ask you if you have any relatives who have bipolar disorder or other psychiatric conditions.

It is also illegal for your employer to ask about genetic information after offering you a job and after you start work, except in a few very narrow circumstances.


Can my employer require me to take leave because of genetic information?

No. Your employer may not require you to take leave because of genetic information. For example, your employer may not require you to take medical leave if you test positive for the genetic variant associated with sickle cell anemia.

However, your employer may have a medical leave policy that requires employees to request leave in advance for medical appointments. You are required to follow these policies, even if the leave is related to genetic information. For example, you may need to request leave in advance to attend a medical appointment with a genetic counselor.


Can my employer restrict me from working with customers because of genetic information?

No. Your employer may not prevent you from working with customers or interacting with others in the workplace because of genetic information. For example, your employer may not assign you to work in the stockroom because your sister was recently diagnosed with anxiety disorder and your employer is afraid that the stress of assisting customers may cause you to develop anxiety disorder.


Can my employer’s doctor ask me whether any of my relatives had particular medical conditions during a medical exam for work?

No. Your employer’s doctor and other people who work for your employer, including managers or supervisors, may not ask you about family medical history or any other questions related to genetic information during work-related medical exams.


Can my doctor ask me whether any of my relatives had particular medical conditions during my annual school physical?

Yes. Your doctor can ask you whether your relatives have medical conditions or other questions related to your family medical history during an annual physical or any other medical appointment. 

The EEOC is responsible for protecting you from discrimination at work. The information on this web site does not apply to situations that are not related to work (for example, medical appointments for school).

So, although your own doctor can ask about genetic information during a school physical, your employer’s doctor cannot ask about family medical history or other questions related to genetic information during a work-related medical exam. And there are specific rules  that your employer’s medical staff have to follow if you seek medical assistance at work and they want to ask you about your family medical history or other questions related to genetic information.


Is my employer allowed to share genetic information with other managers or people I work with?

No. Your employer must keep genetic information confidential. If the information is in writing, your employer must keep it separate from general employee files. There are strict limits on when employers may share genetic information. 


Does my employer have to make changes to the workplace because of genetic information?

No. The laws enforced by EEOC do not require employers to make changes to the workplace because of genetic information.

But the laws enforced by EEOC do require employers to make reasonable changes to the workplace because of your religious beliefs or medical condition, if such changes are needed and would not cause an undue hardship for the employer. 


Can my employer punish me for reporting what I think is genetic information discrimination?

No. It is illegal for your employer to punish you, treat you differently, or harass you because you report discrimination to someone at your company, to EEOC, or to your parents, your teacher, or another trusted adult. This is true even if it turns out that the conduct you complained about is not found to be discrimination. We refer to this as your right to be protected from retaliation.


Do I have other rights related to genetic information?

Yes. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on genetic information in health insurance coverage.  This part of the law is enforced by the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services. Additional information is available on the Department of Labor’s web site (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 Fact Sheet and FAQs) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ genetic information web site.