The head of the US agency charged with enforcing civil rights in the workplace says artificial intelligence-driven “bosware” devices that closely monitor the location, keystrokes and productivity of workers could run afoul of discrimination laws.
Charlotte Burroughs, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told The Associated Press that the agency is trying to educate employers and technology providers about the use of these intelligence tools, as well as AI tools that streamline job evaluations.
Not to mention draconian scheduling algorithms that penalize pregnant women or Muslims taking breaks to pray.Or allowing the wrong software to screen out graduates from women’s or historically black colleges — they won’t blame you when the EEOC calls.
“I’m not shy about using our enforcement authority when necessary,” Burroughs said. “We want to work with employers, but they can’t be exempt from civil rights laws because they discriminate in high-tech ways.”
A federal agency released its latest guidance Thursday on using automated systems to make employment decisions such as who to hire or promote. It explains how to interpret a key provision known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion or sex, which includes discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender workers..
Burrows said one important example involves widely used resume filters and whether or not they can produce biased results if based on biased data.
“What happens is you have an algorithm that looks for patterns that reflect patterns it already knows,” she said. “Training is based on data from existing employees. And if you currently have a non-diverse workforce, you may end up inadvertently firing people who don’t look like your current employees.”
Amazon, for example, ditched its own recruiting tool to hire top talent after finding it favored men for technical roles — in part because it matched job candidates against the company’s male-dominated tech workforce.
Other agenciesThey have been sending similar warnings, including to the Ministry of Justice. For the past year, along with previous guidelines on how some AI tools discriminate against people with disabilities and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In some cases, the EEOC has taken action. In March, tech job search site Dice.com agreed with the agency to drop an investigation into allegations that it allowed job posters for immigrants seeking work visas to exclude U.S.-citizen workers. To resolve the issue, parent company DHI Group agreed to rewrite its programs to “scrutinize” discriminatory language such as “H-1Bs Only,” which refers to a type of work visa.
Much of the EEOC’s work involves investigating complaints filed by employees who believe they have been discriminated against. And although it is difficult for job applicants Burroughs said there is “generally greater awareness” among employees about the tools used to track their productivity, noting that a biased hiring tool has caused them to be denied a job.
Those devices can range from radio frequency devices to monitor nurses, monitor keystrokes or computer mouse clicks as many office workers begin working from home during the pandemic, to monitor warehouse workers and delivery drivers on a minute-by-minute basis. Some may violate civil rights laws depending on how they are used.
Burroughs noted that the National Labor Relations Board is looking at such AI tools. The NLRB issued a warning last year that overly intrusive surveillance and management tools could undermine workers’ rights to communicate with each other about union activity or dangerous situations.
“I think the best approach out there — I’m not saying don’t use it, it’s not illegal — but to think about what employers want to measure and maybe measure directly,” Burrows said. . “If you’re trying to see if the job is getting done, maybe check if the job is getting done.”
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