Breast Cancer Awareness Month and GINA

by Michael Haberman on October 19, 2011 · 1 comment


Everyone has seen the pink ribbons. Everyone as seen the signs and shirts and stickers in support of TA-TAs. Everyone should know that October in the United States is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is a very worthy and noble cause and one I have contributed to often. Many of us have women working for us who may have been a victim, or have a relative who has been, and they may be participating in the Susan B. Komen 3-Day Walk for a Cure. Good for them. But did you know that your awareness as an employer of that activity could get you in trouble? And GINA is the culpret in Breast Cancer Awareness.

Let me explain. GINA stands for the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. It went into effect on 1/10/2011. It prohibits employers from taking any employment action based upon an individual’s genetic makeup. I wrote about this in GINA Final Regulations are Effective 1/10/2011: Are You Ready? It covers a number of things, including “casual knowledge.” As I noted in my other post:

Sometimes people overhear conversations of employees who are discussing with co-workers their medical situation. Someone may mention a family member who has cancer, or MS, or some other condition. This happens all the time. What the new regulations prohibit is, “actively listening”, noting this information in the personnel file, or asking “probing questions” about the condition. As a result supervisors need to be educated not to ask such questions, even if well intentioned.”

Because there is a genetic component in breast cancer knowledge of someone participating in the Susan B. Komen walk because of a mother or sister comes under that casual knowledge. Asking further, noting information or probing can potentially get cause problems if at some point in the future some employment action is taken based upon that information.

My previous post has further information that you need to be aware of and steps you need to take to be in compliance with GINA. So be aware, be careful, but don’t stop supporting the cause.

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