Want a job? Submit your DNA

Want a job? Submit your DNA

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted May 19, 2007 in DNA Around the World, DNA and the Law

Americans should be grateful they live in a country where the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which passed the House last month, will hopefully prohibit employers and insurance companies from using genetic information. No such genetic privacy considerations exist for job seekers in Trinidad and Tobago where candidates for the Police Service will not only have to submit to polygraph and psychological testing, they will have to submit their DNA as well.

police in a row

In the UK, the Association of Chief Police Officers suggested collecting DNA from police officers earlier this year. And in 2004, Victoria Police in Australia were also considering a similar measure. They claimed DNA would be one way to crackdown on corruption. And in fact, an interview with Assistant Commissioner at the Ethical Standards Department, Kieran Walsh, claimed that lie detector tests would generate greater opposition than DNA testing. (I had to read that twice to believe it.)

Here are some ways DNA from job applicants, including police recruits, can be used:

  1. To predict current and future health status as it affects fitness for the job.
  2. To determine insurance liability both for the job candidates and their families (since genes are inherited).
  3. To assess personality traits, such as the MAOA gene which is associated with violent behavior, the D4-7 gene variant associated with risk taking, the stathmin gene associated with fear, and the CHRM2 gene associated with performance IQ, so that candidates can be matched with the appropriate job.
  4. To make sure the candidate isn’t a crime suspect by comparing his/her DNA with DNA databases. According to another interview with Noel Perry, Assistant Commissioner of the Ethical Standards Commissioner in 2003, gang leaders and members of organized crime have joined police forces before (remember that horrible movie starring Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed?).
  5. In the case of police recruits, DNA can be keep on file for comparison to samples taken at crime scenes as a safeguard against police involvement in criminal activity.

I can tell you this right now. If a potential employer asked me to submit to genetic testing before I were given a job, I would walk right out the door. But not everyone has the luxury. If a person desperately needs a secure job, what would he or she do to get it? Giving a DNA sample might not seem like a big deal especially to people who are unaware of the possible repercussions.

However, some believe those involved in protecting public safety are in a special position. The argument for DNA testing of potential police recruits is that they must weigh the potential benefit to the community vs. benefit to the individual. And when it comes to policing, community has to come first. What do you think?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , police



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Comment by Peggy

That is really disturbing. While I suppose it makes sense to make extra sure that you aren’t hiring criminals for your police force (does that really happen very often?), I don’t think the link between specific genetic variants and behavior is understood well enough to use it as a predictive test. It’s scary to think that you could be rejected from a job because you carry an allele that makes you statistically only slightly more likely to get cancer or show aggression.

Comment by Hsien

Peggy, I don’t think they’re proposing to use the DNA as a way to assess psychological traits but I can imagine that happening in the future. Recently there was talk of DNA testing astronauts as well. So DNA screening job applicants really isn’t as GATTACA as it seems….

Comment by Lisa

Informed consent is required in the US and the UK for genetic testing for medical purposes, research purposes and I think, paternity. Do the Victoria Police and any employer requiring or considering requiring DNA testing of applicants intend to provide informed consent? Considering what the testing could be used for, they need to do it just as much, if not more so, than these other purposes!

Comment by Hsien

Lisa, Good point. I wonder who’s trained to provide appropriate counseling and information to the job applicants or are they simply handed the swab and told to do it?

Comment by Mary Emma

Very interesting…and I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad “interesting.” I can see, as Peggy says, a “pro” side would be making sure criminals don’t get hired for police and security jobs. However, DNA used for employment and other aspects of our life might infer “Big Brother is Watching You.”

Comment by Hsien

Mary Emma, I often think that technological advances have not only made our everyday lives easier, it makes it easier to control our everyday lives as well. :/

Comment by Sheri Subscribed to comments via email

Have you thought about the collection of DNA to rule out contamination at a crime seen or by the people collecting forensic evidence. I’m a forensic nurse and at some point I know I’ll be asked for a DNA sample to rule out contamination when they find a DNA sample they can’t identify. BUT to demand a DNA sample for employment purposes NO chance. I had to undergo a drug screening test (which was sprung on me) when I got the forensic nurse job. The employer didn’t want to hire someone who used and/or abused drugs. If I had known about the drug test before I took the job, I would not have taken it even though I was actively recruited and I love my work.

Comment by Hsien

Hi Sheri, You make a very good point. So are you saying that you’d be ok giving a DNA sample after you’ve been hired but not if it’s a pre-req for getting hired? And same goes for drug testing? Is this more because you hate the idea of discriminating based on screening rather than opposing a potential violation of privacy?

Comment by Sheri Subscribed to comments via email

I don’t like the idea of giving a DNA sample. But if the DNA is required to prove that I did not contaminate evidence during collection then yes I would give it. If I was working for a hospital, a government agency or a private business that just wanted it, then no I would not give them a DNA sample. There needs to be a very good, defendable reason such as to prove I did not contaminate evidence for me to give a DNA sample.
I would have walked away from the forensic nursing job I took when they wanted to test me for drugs except that I had already committed to job after they had gone out of their way to recruit me and arrange the entire training schedule around my schedule. The boss was a close friend.
I have walked away from jobs when I was told that they required pre-employment drug testing. I don’t take drugs and I dislike the assumption of guilt until proven innocent. Given that, it is a hard call for anyone who has to work for a living. When you have children to feed and clothe you may deside that their well-being is worth being publically humiliated/called a criminal and being forced to prove your innocence.
Quite frankly, I believe that drug testing or the giving of a DNA sample prior to or after employment should be illegal unless the employer can prove to a jury that there is a safety issue which only a drug test or a DNA sample can guarantee public safety. Given the political climate this will never become law.
Each day we give just a little of our freedom away to those who say we must and we will ignore those who tell us not to until we have given all of our freedom away. Then we will cry and ask why no one told us this would happen. We will demand that someone else fight die for us to give us back the freedom who so willingly gave away.

Comment by Hsien

You know, I never thought about it that deeply before but I can see that it’s not absolutely necessary for all of us to submit to a drug test when applying for a job or even after we’ve been employed unless we’re showing evidence of not being able to do the job. I’ve only been asked to submit to a urine test one time to get a job and it was a bizarre experience. I think it’s related to the question of how much our private lives impinge upon our professional lives and DNA definitely crosses into both territories.


[...] For more on genetic discrimination against job applicants, see my previous post – Want a job? Submit your DNA. [...]


[...] been a lot of news recently about personal genetic testing, along the lines of 23andMe. A post from Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei, though, raises some of the ethical questions that could arise from DNA testing, particularly in [...]

Comment by online doctor

A world where we did not have genetic privacy laws would be a scary place to live…thank you for the article!

Comment by simer Subscribed to comments via email

tell me about job in USA after msc in applied genetics


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