MEDICAL SCREENING: Are Employers Going Too Far?
In an effort to "hold down rising health care expenses," some companies are using medical screening tests to weed out employees with pre-existing medical conditions, the Washington Post reports. A lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges that Rockwell International Corp. and a company that acquired Rockwell's plant in Centralia, IL, "violated federal anti-discrimination law by using" a nerve conductor test to "screen out" workers who might later become disabled by carpal tunnel syndrome. The Post reports that companies nationwide are engaging in similar practices, testing new hires for HIV/AIDS, STDs, sickle cell trait and genetic markers that indicate "a higher-than-average susceptibility" for diseases like breast cancer or Huntington's disease. Rockwell denies that it behaved improperly by administering the tests and is fighting the EEOC lawsuit. "It was done with full medical advice. We believed at the time it was the right thing to do ... and that it's a legal and appropriate program," said Rockwell attorney Nina Stillman.
Genetic Predisposition For Unemployment?
Civil rights advocates say the pre-screening practices are a violation of civil rights, privacy and even the Americans With Disabilities Act. Noting that scientists are close to mapping the human genome, Lewis Maltby, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's workplace task force, said, "Who carries the Huntington's disease gene? Who carries the cancer gene? The cost-effective things is to not hire the employee who will cost you the most money." The EEOC said it considers discrimination due to genetic predisposition to be a violation of the ADA, and that the nerve conductor test administered by Rockwell was a form of this discrimination. "The EOCC's administrative investigation indicated that the nerve conduction test could predict on-the-job hand and wrist injuries which would occur at some point in the future," said EEOC attorney John Hendrickson. "Whatever you call such a 'crystal ball,' the facts appear to be that qualified applicants were knocked out of the competition for jobs on account of disability-related considerations," he said, adding that the ADA "is designed to remedy that kind of exclusionary bias and that is why the EEOC is pursuing this case."
Right To Know?
Industry advocates say companies are justified in controlling their health care costs by using pre-employment screenings. "The results of medical tests give vital information to the employer about the health of the employee," said Eric Greenberg of the American Management Association. "Companies have a right to see that the employee if hired can do what he or she is expected to do," he said. He acknowledged that a "thorny issue" exists when employees don't know they are being tested for certain ailments. "The potential for abuse always exits. All employees need to be aware such tests are being done, and that employers have access to the results of such tests," he said. According to a survey conducted by the American Management Association, about 4% of 1,085 firms surveyed reported that they conducted HIV and STD tests on their employees. Less than 1% of the companies said they perform genetic tests (Grimsley, 10/27).