The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing two employers for violating the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which prohibits insurers and employers from discriminating against individuals due to their genetic background.
Attorney Earle Miller, an employment law expert with White & Case, said the prohibitions against asking for family medical history can affect questions that doctors routinely ask patients.
"In the course of medical exams or procedures, that sort of thing could easily come up," he said. "It's something doctors need to know to make a diagnosis and help patients."
There are exceptions in the case of company-sponsored wellness programs, but Miller said employers should proceed with caution.
"There's not a lot of guidance right now how a wellness program meshes with this law," he said.
Miller said employers should make it clear to employees that answering any questions about family medical history is voluntary and that employees do not have to answer in order to participate in the wellness program.