diversity · employment · Gender · legal issues · political commentary · social activism

Bill For Genetic Testing At Work: Attempts to Limit Your Individual Pursuit of Happiness

thIt appears that 1984 is upon us, at least in a figurative and scary as hell sense. Apparently, George Orwell was on to something far bigger than any of us could imagine, and perhaps more elaborate than anything he could imagine during the time that his novel was written.

Over the years the concept of big brother watching us all has emerged as increasingly plausible, even likely, in terms of arrests related to internet use and so forth, where evidence of government entities surveilling the public seems apparent. But today, actually a few days ago, no, actually a couple of months ago, I became even more concerned about the looming notion of big brother being all up in my personal business, to speak frankly.

According to the Washington Post in an article published today titled You May Face Penalties At Work For Refusing Genetic Testing by Lena H. Sun, recently a bill has been proposed, already passing a U.S. House committee vote, in an effort to enact a law that would allow employers the right to genetically test employees, something that is currently illegal at a federal level.

Currently, the government must obtain a warrant or individual consent to collect this type of private citizen information. More, employers currently have no rights to private citizen information without voluntary consent, as the collection of such information is out of alignment with current employment laws surrounding disability and non-discrimination work practices.

However, the Trump administration aims to circumvent these currently held federal legal positions through new law that would allow the gathering of personal information by employers, specifically your genetic information, for use as part of a “wellness” program, where the goal is to “reward” some employees with reduced insurance rates for “healthy” living and “punish” employees for less than “healthy” life choices by up to a 30% increase in premium costs. An interesting concept for an administration that doesn’t seem to believe in science, something that should define the parameters of healthy living.

As for this whole bill turning into law? How about, um, no! And the answer is no for a number of reasons. First, I don’t want an employer to tell me what to do in my nonworking hours; that’s none of their business. And contrary to some beliefs held by employers, I have nonworking hours. Additionally, I want my employer to stay out of my family history, because in general who I am related to and what they have passed to me is none of my employers business either-way too nosey.

An employer doesn’t need to know what genetic markers I have or not. Next, employers will probably want a pregnancy test as part of hiring practices. Or maybe gain the legal right to speak directly with my physician; that’ll certainly make managing health in this country difficult because no one will want to talk to their physician. For an employer, the only concern should be whether or not I do my job correctly during the hours for which I have been scheduled to work, hours that are dictated to a large existent by federal law, at least for now. That’ll probably be the next thing to go.

Second, I don’t trust any employer to keep my information secure. My employer has had student information hacked a number of times, and the last thing that I need to worry about is my genetic information being freely released into the world. I already have to worry about my social security number and my transcript information as it is. Additionally, while we have FERPA law in this country, I know that it is extremely easy for everyone who works within a school to gain access to internal records; I feel sure that the same is likely true in many work settings. I don’t need everyone in the office knowing my personal business; we are not family, we are associates.

Third, this type of absurd law would almost certainly lead to discrimination in an ever increasingly hostile environment, especially at the government level, where racial, ethnic, and sexual identity politics are concerned. In short, the average employer cannot be trusted to be objective in employee hiring, firing, and evaluation when our current administration seems to have an agenda to return to the 1950s in terms of the social subjugation of specific groups, and as a caveat, we have lying Sessions as our AG.

Additionally, I am not in agreement with anything that further restricts my freedoms. As it is, we are all only as free as our culture will allow, and if you don’t believe that is true because for some reason you believe as an American you are free, test the outer limits of cultural norms and see what happens. You’ll line up with what we will allow, or you will be punished every day until you do. We already live within a set of rules that have been slowly chipped away at by many people before us who made gains in terms of restrictive social issues. These brave Americans worked toward removing those social restrictions so that we all could enjoy some measure of influence over our own pursuits of happiness, something that they had not been afforded. Their understanding that personal freedom was at stake was the very reason for the commitment to a slow chipping process. At this point, I am unwilling to return to a more socially restrictive time; it was simply too miserable for many of us who dared to push those limits previously mentioned.

Finally, Ervin Goffman’s 1963 Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity instructed us on what it means to be socially discredited versus discredible in terms of stigmatization. People who wear their identity (i.e., race, sex) are discredited upon inspection. However, many others are discredible (i.e., learned information that discredits such as physical or mental health, arrest records, etc.). Opening up genetic testing to employers is simply another avenue that allows the latter to happen without your involvement.

This recent push from the Trump administration is just one more reminder that we are dealing with a fascist leader who cannot be allowed to erase all of the hard work of those who lived before us and who worked tirelessly, and often in miserable social conditions, so that we could all be more socially free.