South-Western - Management  
IBM to Put Genetic Data of Workers Off Limits
Topic Ethics and Social Responsibility
Key Words I.B.M., genetic data, employee privacy
InfoTrac Reference A137338338
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News Story 

I.B.M. has announced a new work force privacy policy today, promising that it will not use genetic information in hiring or firing decisions. The pledge is the first of its kind made to corporate employees and comes as Congress considers legislation on genetic privacy, in response to the growing trend in medical research to focus on genetic markers for disease and to use that information to help plan treatment.

Research has shown that Americans worry that gene testing could put their employment or health coverage at risk. In 2002, the US EEOC reached a $2.2 million settlement in a case where the company allegedly took blood samples from 36 employees and tested the samples for genetic conditions without the employees' consent with the intention of showing that a genetic disorder, rather than work-related-stress caused injuries.

Congress has taken notice of the issue and has passed a genetic nondiscrimination bill, with the House considering similar legislation. 40 states also have some kind of law prohibiting discrimination based on genetic information.

I.B.M. has been heavily involved in information-based medicine and is also engaged in research at the Mayo Clinic and is taking part in a venture with the National Geographic Society to trace the world population's genealogy.

I.B.M felt the time was right to proactively reassure their workforce that the information would not be used against them.

Questions
1.

Linda Sanford, senior vice president, Enterprise On Demand Transformation & Information Technology, at IBM, is quoted on the company website as saying that "technology is important, but people must come first." Is I.B.M. living up to these ethical standards by declaring that all genetic data on workers is off limits?

2.

Your text will tell you that ethical behavior often pays off for a company. List at least three ways in which I.B.M. can benefit from implementing the policy of not using worker's genetic information in any way.

Source "IBM to Put Genetic Data of Workers Off Limits," NYTimes.com, Oct. 10, 2005, p NA.
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