DNA tests are illegal even to investigate misconduct

A federal law called GINA (the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) prohibits businesses from collecting genetic information, such as DNA samples, from workers. The main purpose of the law is to stop employers from firing workers whose predisposition to certain diseases might drive up the company’s health-care costs.

But a recent case in Georgia shows that the law applies even if a company collects such information for nondiscriminatory reasons, such as to investigate misconduct.

In that case, an unidentified employee at a food distribution company was repeatedly defecating in various spots throughout one of its warehouses. The company suspected the worker was doing this to protest certain company policies.

To try to catch the culprit, the company ordered a number of workers to submit to cheek-swab genetic tests, so it could compare the workers’ DNA with the DNA it had found on the floor.

In the end, none of the swabs matched, the culprit was never caught, and nobody was ever disciplined. But several employees sued under GINA, claiming that having to undergo the testing was humiliating and illegal.

A federal judge said the workers could sue, because GINA applies even if the employer is not using the genetic information for discriminatory purposes.