The old perks of free lunch and onsite dry cleaning are moving aside for Apple's new perk: Genetic testing.

Apple has onsite health clinics, and they now offer employees free genetic testing. This seems like a fantastic perk, but I'd be extra cautious about it.

It has a noble goal--turning healthcare from reactive to proactive. This is something most of us can appreciate. If you know you're at risk for something, you can change your behavior or get treatment before it becomes a problem. However, the law makes this a risky endeavor, indeed.

In 2008 the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) became law. This prohibits employers and insurers from discriminating against people based on their genetics. That is, you can't say, "we won't hire you or insure you because you carry a gene which indicates a high probability of colon cancer." 

  • Where the information is acquired inadvertently.
  • As part of health or genetic services, including wellness programs, provided on a voluntary basis.
  • In the form of family medical history, to comply with the certification requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act, state or local leave laws, or certain employer leave policies.
  • When the information comes from sources that are commercially and publicly available, such as newspapers, books, magazines, and even electronic sources.
  • As part of genetic monitoring that is either required by law or provided on a voluntary basis.
  • By employers who conduct DNA testing for law enforcement purposes as a forensic lab, or for human remains identification.

This Apple perk is voluntary. They don't require their employees to go down and get tested and then posting the results in the break room. Apple would be prohibited from using any of this information in any staffing decisions.

Still, it's a bit concerning that an employer-sponsored clinic would have this information. Apple employees should carefully consider whether or not they trust that this information will remain confidential.

Genetic testing is popular not only for health reasons but for family history. Not everything comes out as expected. There are groups dedicated to people who use commercially available DNA tests and end up with results that indicate someone they thought was a parent is not the actual biological parent.

Police arrested the alleged Golden State Killer through voluntarily submitted DNA. It wasn't that he had submitted DNA--his relatives had. While we are all in favor of arresting serial killers, it demonstrates what can happen when you put your DNA out there.

Apple will need to be careful that there is no sharing of information from the medical side to the employment side. It's not an idle threat--a company was fined $2.23 million for using DNA testing to identify an employee who defecated in a warehouse

Apple has the funds to pay for lawyers to ensure they comply with all relevant laws. Your business probably doesn't have such deep pockets and should be cautious about starting any similar program--no matter how cool it is to find out the secrets hidden in your cells and your family tree.

My recommendation? Stay far away from any sort of genetic testing through work. It's not worth the risk--for employer or employee.