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Are we allowed to ask questions about an applicant’s family medical history?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Q. We make offers to applicants contingent on passing a physical examination. We have an arrangement with a local doctor’s office to conduct those examinations. As a part of the examination the doctor asks for a medical history, including questions about the applicant’s family medical history. We have heard that we should not ask about the applicant’s family medical history, but we aren’t sure if that’s true. Should we not ask for this information?

A. Most likely the request for a family history would violate the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) which was enacted in 2008. GINA strictly limits the ability of employers to collect, use or disclose genetic information.  

More particularly, GINA provides that it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to “request, require, or purchase genetic information with respect to an em­­ployee or family member of the employee.” A request for a family history may include genetic information.

The EEOC has brought suits against employers alleging that requests for medical history violate GINA. Al­­though there have been no decisions on those cases yet, the best practice is to stop asking for a family medical history.

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