Montgomery County today became the first local jurisdiction in the country to approve legislation to protect workers from discrimination based on their genetic predisposition to illness.
"The need for this legislation is urgent because there are already genetic tests for hundreds of diseases and disorders," said Councilmember Phil Andrews, who introduced the bill. "Montgomery County is a world center for biotech research. It is appropriate for us to make sure that gene research is used to help people, not hurt them.
Many employers are under pressure to reduce health care costs. We need to act now to ensure that workers with a genetic predisposition to illness aren't refused employment, denied promotion, or fired because of their genetic susceptibility."
The legislation would amend Montgomery County's human relations law to prohibit employment discrimination based solely on genetic status. The law currently protects workers and applicants from discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, family status, and sexual orientation.
Employers also are prohibited from asking employees to take genetic tests or to provide genetic information when making hiring and promotion decisions. Employees who feel they have been discriminated against would file a complaint with the county’s Human Relation Commission
The legislation is similar to laws already enacted in 23 states. In addition, President Clinton issued an executive order in February 2000 protecting federal workers from genetic discrimination in the workplace. The Maryland General Assembly failed to pass proposals to extend this protection to all Maryland workers this year, but Senator Jennie Forehand will reintroduce legislation in the session that begins in January.
"Protecting people against the misuse of their most private information imaginable — their genetic code — is imperative, " said Councilmember Andrews. " Montgomery is taking the lead."
The legislation becomes effective in March 2001.