EEOC Seeks Ban of Workplace Genetic Testing

February 12, 2001 ( - The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Friday filed suit to stop mandatory genetic testing in the workplace - the first federal case on the issue.

The EEOC filed suit against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which had required genetic testing of employees who file worker’s compensation claims for carpal tunnel syndrome.  The EEOC claims the policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act since the exam is not job-related, or “consistent with business necessity” 

The lawsuit also said the employees were not asked to consent to the tests and at least one worker who refused to provide a blood sample was threatened with losing his job, an assertion denied by the company.

Injury Prone?

The railroad was testing employee blood samples for Chromosome 17 deletion, which some studies suggest could predispose a person for some forms of carpal tunnel syndrome.  The test might show that the injury was not work-related.

The company began the testing program last year on the advice of its medical department.  To date only 20 people have been tested, according to the Associated Press citing a company spokesman.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that each year 1.8 million workers have musculoskeletal injuries related to working conditions, while 600,000 people miss work because of them.