Can you disclose genetic information in an employee’s file based on the employee’s verbal request?


A former employee phoned your company’s human resources department and requested copies of her complete personnel files. Her files contain medical information about her mother’s breast cancer because the employee requested time off to take her mother for treatment. Are you permitted under the Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act (GINA) to release the breast cancer-related information based on the employee’s verbal request?


No. You must receive a request in writing from the employee or the employee’s mother before you may disclose the information.

“Genetic information” as defined in GINA includes “information about an individual’s genetic tests and information about the manifestation of disease and disorder in family members, i.e., family medical history.” Title II of GINA prohibits discrimination based on genetic information and requires covered entities that lawfully obtain genetic information about applicants, employees, and former employees to maintain such information in separate medical files and treat it as confidential. Disclosure of genetic information is permitted only in very limited circumstances.

In this case, the information about the employee’s mother’s breast cancer would qualify as genetic information. Under GINA, such information may be disclosed to the employee, or to the relative about whom the information pertains, only upon receipt of the employee’s or the relative’s written request. Genetic information also may be disclosed:

  • to an occupational or other health researcher conducting research in compliance with 45 CFR Part 46;
  • in response to a court order, but only the genetic information expressly authorized by the order may be disclosed;
  • to government officials investigating compliance with Title II of GINA, if the information is relevant to the investigation;
  • for FMLA or state law family and medical leave certification purposes; and
  • to a public health agency, if information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder concerns a contagious disease that presents an imminent hazard of death or life-threatening illness.

Source: WKL&B WorkDay Blog,; Employment Practices Guide ¶5362.

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