Occupational Physicians Caution Use of Genetic Testing in the Workplace

ACOEM recently applauded the efforts of the Clinton Administration in barring federal agencies from using genetic information in its hiring and promotion practices.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) recently applauded the efforts of the Clinton Administration in barring federal agencies from using genetic information in its hiring and promotion practices.

In a statement ACOEM said it recognized that the greatest potential for the misuse of genetic testing in the workplace is discrimination in employability or insurability.

"Therefore, ACOEM strongly supports the development of federal policies which give workers the assurance that discrimination will not occur and which provide for the absolute confidentiality of genetic testing information."

Since 1994, ACOEM has cautioned that genetic testing should not be performed on current or prospective employees unless it is clear that the genetic trait being screened for would directly affect job performance, or would predispose a worker to significant, consistent adverse outcomes following an otherwise acceptable workplace exposure.

"Employees should always be informed of work-related genetic tests and should be able to participate on a voluntary basis," said ACOEM President Robert J. McCunney, M.D. "Employees must have a guarantee that test results will not be disclosed to others without their consent and they should have the right to obtain their test results upon request."

ACOEM's Code of Ethical Conduct prohibits physicians from releasing specific test results to employers, but does permit information that is derived from specific tests which would impact an employee's fitness to perform a particular job, to be given to employers.

According to ACOEM, the custodian of the workplace medical records, including genetic test information, should always be the physician or responsible health care provider.

"If performed, genetic testing should always be accompanied by appropriate genetic counseling," said McCunney.

ACOEM also recommends that insurability decisions of employees by employers or others should not be based on genetic status or be used to make decisions on the issuance or pricing of healthcare insurance.

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