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Ethical issues in the Workplace


Should employers have access to genetic information? We will explore this issue by pointing out the concerns of many. Next, we will discuss what is being done to protect individuals from employer misuse. And finally, we will conclude with our own opinions on the topic.


Genetic discrimination is an interesting issue as it can affect the workplace and you personally. Even if an individual chooses not to know anything about themselves, does their company have a right to the information? As the author points out, this is not science fiction anymore. Many employers have access to our medical information. Companies who self-insure have medical information at their fingertips. Genetic testing is one more thing they can test at your next physical or doctor visit. Imagine if your employer had access to that information.


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What protection does an individual have to ensure that their genetic information will not be misused? They can find out whether you have or will have a disease. They can test to see if you are a smoker or ever used drugs in the past. This sensitive information could potentially bar you from a position or even employment. If a company has the knowledge, they can decide not to hire you to save on future medical expenses. Or, they can monitor you and let you go at the first signs of medical trouble.


Genetics is exploding on the world daily. As the technology becomes more accessible, the issue of how society protects its workers against the misuse of genetic information will become more important and legal and policy development will have to be addressed. If employers are permitted to consider genetic information in making personal decisions, people may be unfairly barred or removed from employment for reasons that are wholly unrelated to their ability to perform their jobs (Miller, P).


It is important to begin with the premise that applicants and employees must be selected for jobs based on their ability to do the job, and not on their gender, race, ethnicity, religion or many other factors. As it becomes possible to learn more about genetic predispositions, should employers be allowed to make employment decisions with this information? How should a law protect workers from misuse of this information?


There are many different ways to approach analyzing genetic discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA prohibits disaffirmation against a qualified individual with a disability (Miller). The ADA does not address genetics specifically. However, the ADA does cover individuals who have genetically related illness or disabilities that impairs a major life activity.


In 15 the EEOC adopted the view that the ADA prohibits discrimination against workers based on their genetic makeup. Although the law does not back up genetic discrimination, the EEOCs policy explicitly states that discrimination on the basis of genetic information is covered under the third prong of the statutory definition of disability, which covers people who are regarded as having impairments. This part of the statute was designed to protect against prejudices and misconceptions about disabilities.


Now, what affect would this have on research one might ask? Genetics is good for determining paternity or solving criminal cases. Genetic research has to be sensitive to the nature of uses it might have. Genetics should not be used to exclude qualified workers from the workplace. Genotype is no substitution for qualifications, and an employer should never review genetic records along with a resume (Miller).


The genetic issue is gaining on political ground as well. Legislation has been introduced that specifically prohibits discrimination by private-sector employers on the basis of genetic information. President Bush has spoken in support of genetic-discrimination legislation as well. The Daschle-Kennedy bill prohibits the federal government from considering genetic information in hiring, promoting, discharging and all other employment decisions.


There has not been a U.S. federal or state court case decided regarding genetic-employment discrimination. However, The EEOC has settled the first lawsuit alleging genetic discrimination. The EEOC alleged that the Burlington Northern Santa FE (BNSF) railroad subjected its employees to surreptitious testing for a genetic marker linked to carpal tunnel syndrome. BNSF was attempting to address its high incidence of repetitive stress injuries among its employees. At least one employee was threatened with discipline and possible termination for refusing the genetic test. The EEOC sought an injunction in federal court in Iowa. The EEOC alleged that the tests were unlawful under the ADA as they were not job related and consistent with any business necessity. To allow any employment action on the results of such tests would be to engage in unlawful discrimination based on disability. The EEOC and BNSF reached a settlement in which the EEOC achieved everything it sought (Miller).


Genetic issues are not just issues here in the United States. Genetic issues are covered globally. Research and experimentation is done globally as well. Privacy issues are going to be a major concern to everyone. The workplace is just one factor of many ethical issues that will continue to come from genetic research. Controls will have to be adopted universally to ensure that one is not discriminated against because of genetic testing.


In conclusion, we feel that genetic testing should not be done. No good can come from it. We are not God. Only God should be able to judge us. Our genotype is irrelevant in deciding whether we are capable for a position or employment.


We do agree however, that genetic testing is appropriate when used to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace and only with the voluntary consent.


We also believe that genetic discrimination is wrong. It is hard enough to land a good job these days. There are many more discriminations out there like race, color, creed and gender. We do not need another. Let’s hope that our future leaders and legislators will keep genetic testing out of the hands of employers and irresponsible fanatics of science.


This is one more way “Big Brother” can keep an eye on us and take away our privacy, maybe even our freedom. Here is an extreme example. What if the government had everyone genetically tested as mandated by laws. They could have everyone in the United States tested at birth, or as a routine like a vaccination along with your Polio or TB shot. They could store that genetic information into a database and call upon it whenever they need to. It would be great for a law enforcement perspective, but not much else.





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