Will Employers Eventually Use DNA Testing in the Hiring Process?

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Jun 18, 2020

Jun 18, 2020 • by Rebecca Smith

The idea of DNA testing as an employment requirement probably sounds odd for many. Some may even see it as an invasion of privacy or violation of medical data confidentiality rights. However, DNA testing may eventually become a standard requisite in recruitment or promotion procedures.

This is what one forward-thinking Gartner research suggests.  It may not make a lot of sense for now, but the idea deserves thorough discussions. It’s a concern not only for HR professionals but also for those who will be directly affected by it: the jobseekers.

Selection of the genetically fittest

The Gartner research in question is called “The CIO Gene(s): Selection of the Fittest.” It lists Gartner analysts David Furlonger and Stephen Smith as the authors.

The study is tagged as “maverick,” which means that the probability of the targeted topic is relatively low and far into the future. In other words, it is somewhat farfetched. However, the authors deem it worth exploring because of the potential issues or advantages it presents.

The study proposes that the science of genetics has been evolving in ways that make it worth including in the criteria for C-level leadership selection. The search for CIOs, in particular, can take advantage of the results revealed by DNA examination, the research claims.

Furlonger and Smith’s work delves deep into the science of DNA testing, the concerns associated with it, and the more significant role it can play beyond medicine and paternity testing. 

Gartner’s research is not the first to scrutinize the possible relevance of genetic testing in employment or employee placement. An earlier paper by KT Palmer et al, published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, also inquired into the topic. This earlier research, however, was not as specific as the Gartner study.

Genetic suitability for jobs and leadership roles

DNA tests can reveal various information about a person. For one, it can show the likelihood of a person to contract or develop certain diseases such as cancer. Tests can identify genetic mutations that make people susceptible to a range of health conditions.

The health information derived from genetic testing is valuable to companies, as it allows them to avoid hiring applicants who may eventually become unproductive because of health problems. It can enable the profiling of applicants based on their physical, psychological, and mental health.

There are also non-biological features or characteristics that are attributable to certain genes. DNA testing can help identify people who have desirable traits such as leadership. This does not supplant the conventional way of evaluating an applicant’s ability to lead or other capabilities. However, it can serve as an excellent supplementary basis.

Years of research prove that genes do play a significant role in shaping the way a person behaves in the future. Based on behavioral genetics, someone’s genetic makeup can provide hints about their personality. Scientists believe that genetics has more impact on personality compared to parental influence.

It’s understandable why many companies are trying to employ DNA testing for recruitment and employee assignment. The availability of affordable DNA test kits (and the information they reveal) provide conveniently useful insights. It’s cheaper and easier to examine genes compared to undertaking a meticulous verification of applicants’ claims in their resumes.

Legality problem

In the United States, it is illegal to demand job applicants to submit to DNA testing as part of the hiring process. To safeguard DNA information from being used in unanticipated ways, the US enacted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). The law includes prohibitions on the use of genetic information in employment. 

Specifically, Title II of GINA outlaws the discrimination of applicants or employees based on genetic information. Companies, labor organizations, as well as programs for joint labor-management training and apprenticeship are prohibited from making hiring or promotion decisions based on details derived from the examination of a person’s genes. They are included in the “covered entities” list of GINA.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act explicitly disallows those considered as covered entities from requesting, demanding, or buying genetic information. GINA also imposes strict limitations on the disclosure of such data. Additionally, the law penalizes harassment based on the same.

Genetic information is not limited to the paternity matches or family relations of a person. GINA defines the phrase to include details about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in someone’s ancestry, family medical history, as well as the request for genetic services and involvement in clinical studies.

Can DNA testing be used in the hiring process?

Given the legal prohibition, genetic testing is unlikely to become a requirement in the hiring or promotion process anytime soon. There have been no indications that legislators are keen on repealing or at least amending the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Everyone’s attention is still fixed on the COVID-19 pandemic problem and the recession that came on its wake.

The only way for DNA analysis to become part of a multifaceted and objective hiring process is for the relevant law to be countermanded. Nevertheless, some point out loopholes in the GINA law that may allow certain organizations to use it in the recruitment process. Providers of insurance services, for example, may indirectly look into the results of the DNA tests of their applicants. 

It’s also possible for companies to ask for the DNA test not of the applicant themself but that of a relative’s. As a 2018 study revealed, it is possible to learn more about someone based on a DNA test taken by a distant relative.

These gaps in the law are still mostly theoretical, though. So far, there have been no reported cases of companies that have exploited these legal ambiguities.

Moving forward 

Arguably, DNA testing can help evaluate the potential of an employee. It can aid the assessment of a potential leader in an organization. However, employers need a concerted effort to push for amendments in the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Unless the law is changed or abolished, businesses cannot take full advantage of genetic information in evaluating job applicants.