September 26, 2007

Brave new world: genetic testing and workers compensation

The good news is there are new technologies that hold the promise of ending fraudulent or inappropriate disability and workers' compensation claims. The bad news is that you'll need to get in the business of harvesting and tracking your employee's DNA to get there, venturing into relatively uncharted legal waters. Workforce Management and BBC both discuss the new technologies in DNA Technology May Curb Bogus Disability Claims and DNA test hope over damages claims. According to the Workforce article:

Developed by the Cytokine Institute, a research and consulting firm affiliated with the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, the technology uses DNA to determine a link between exposure to a toxin and a serious illness. It does so by identifying a toxin's unique DNA signature on a person's affected cells.

The technology, launched in June, has already been used in two dozen civil lawsuits between workers and insurance companies to verify the connection between exposure to toxins and a serious illness, says CEO Bruce Gillis, a doctor specializing in medical toxicology.

"It will get rid of all the nuisance and frivolous lawsuits once and for all," Gillis says.

In addition to the application for illnesses and exposures to toxins, testing may also be able to tell if an injury has even occurred. The Workforce article also discusses technology that can measure cytokines or small proteins in a person's cells, which elevate when an injury occurs. Cytokines can be measured as a before and after baseline to verify that an injury has occurred.

Exercise caution when jumping in the gene pool
Before you get too excited, you might check in with your lawyers, many of whom are likely to advise caution due to potential problems with privacy and discrimination issues. While there are no federal prohibitions against genetic testing, at least 30 states have laws that may say otherwise. HR Hero sheds light on the status of federal legislation putting limits on genetic testing in Lifeguard on duty: Congress patrols the gene pool, excerpted from Arizona Employment Law Letter. While many of the legal prohibitions deal with matters related to hiring discrimination and insurance denial rather than work injuries, attorneys advise a conservative approach in matters dealing with employees' genetic information.

Genetic testing is already a hot button employment issue. Its application to workers' compensation and other disability matters is an issue that bears watching. For a handy reference guide, the National Conference of State Legislatures offers a chart on State Genetics Employment Laws.

| 1 Comment

1 Comment

What a slippery slope this is. I can see the bean counters finding a way to use this to determine that a person was genetically predetermined to be more likely to develop a hernia and so of course the injury would be DNA rather than work related.

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This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on September 26, 2007 11:46 AM.

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