Illinois Senate advances update to 'genetic privacy' law

By Monica Stabile

Legislation that protects employees from having to disclose their genetic testing information to employers was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Illinois Senate.

An update to Illinois’ Genetic Information Privacy Act was passed this week, in direct response to controversial legislation in Congress which would allow companies to penalize workers who refuse to disclose their genetic information through workplace wellness programs.

“The goal here is only to protect the genetic information of individuals when that information might be used against them in the employee-employer relationship,” said Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill who sponsors the bill.

Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx from North Carolina is the sponsor of the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, a proposal under consideration in Washington, D.C. which argues that having the genetic information would help employers encourage employees to lead healthy lifestyles while lowering health care costs.

Opponents say Foxx’s proposal would allow employers to reward workers that surrender their genetic information by granting them lower health insurance payments, while penalizing employees who choose not to participate.

The update to Illinois' law would prevent employers from demanding genetic testing results as a condition of employment and would protect employees from being penalized if they refuse.

“I think we have a strong law in Illinois, but I don’t think it’s very strong about barring employers from penalizing employees,” Manar said in a statement.

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