GeneWatch PR: Legal loophole allows genetic discrimination in the workplace.

Embargoed for 00:01 Thursday 25th September, 2003

GeneWatch UK, the TUC and the British Council of Disabled People (BCODP) today warned that changes to the law are needed to prevent employers from refusing people jobs on the basis of genetic test results. A new GeneWatch report, "Genetic Testing in the Workplace" (1), is published today as the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) meets to consider the Government’s response to its recommendations on genetic discrimination (2). The GeneWatch report reveals that:

  • Genetic tests cannot accurately predict which workers will suffer future disability or illness. Many false test results are likely.
  • Despite their poor predictive value, many employers wish to use genetic test results (3) and many research projects are seeking to identify people who are ‘genetically susceptible’ to workplace hazards.
  • If genetic tests were used, large numbers of people would need to be excluded from employment to try to prevent a single case of workplace illness. Workplace hazards affect everyone – not just people with ‘bad genes’ – so the remaining workers would still be at risk.
  • People with adverse genetic test results but no symptoms are not protected by the existing Disabilities Discrimination Act.

"Picking and choosing workers to suit hazardous environments or cut pensions costs is totally unacceptable," said Dr Helen Wallace, Deputy Director of GeneWatch UK. "The Government should act now to close the loophole in the law. Worker exclusion must not replace employers’ obligations to clean up workplaces for all."

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "We want the Government to make sure everyone has an equal right to succeed at work, whatever their genetic inheritance. We should be promoting opportunities for all, not penalising people because of their genes."

Andy Rickell, Director of the BCODP, said: "We are very concerned about this pernicious means of disability discrimination and totally oppose it."

GeneWatch also criticised the Government’s recent White Paper on genetics in the NHS for failing to address this issue. "Ministers have been shockingly complacent about the ‘Brave New World’ of employee selection based on genetic make-up," said Dr Wallace. "Without safeguards, genetic research in the workplace could harm, not help, health and safety."

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For further information, contact:

Dr Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK: 01298 871898 (office), 07903 311584 (mobile).

TUC Press Office, Ben Hurley: 020 7467 1248 (office) 07626 317903 (pager).

Andy Rickell, Director BCODP: 01332 295551 (office).

Notes to editors:

  1. "Genetic Testing in the Workplace", a report by GeneWatch UK. Available on
  2. HGC Plenary Meeting, Cardiff, 25 September 2003: .
    The Government’s White Paper on genetics in the NHS, published in June 2003, made no commitment to legislation to prevent genetic discrimination.
  3. In 2000, an Institute of Directors report found that 50% of employers responding to a questionnaire thought it would be appropriate to conduct genetic testing "to see if employees are at risk of developing an occupation-related disease due to exposure in the workplace" and 34% thought it would be appropriate "to see if they will develop heart disease which might affect sickness or early retirement".
    Day, G. Testing Times: Directors’ Views on Health Testing at Work. Institute of Directors, August 2000. Available on:

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