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Department of Labor Develops Artificial Intelligence Principles for the Workplace

July 10, 2024

Artificial intelligence – or “AI” – refers to automatic systems that use data to make decisions, predictions or recommendations.  AI provides great opportunities to improve many aspects of our lives in terms of how we work, learn, and live.  Nevertheless, there are both pros and cons to AI in the workplace.  Advantages include increased efficiency and productivity, innovation, and removing remedial and/or tedious tasks from employees’ job descriptions. On the down side, as AI becomes more advanced and capable of taking on tasks previously performed by humans, job displacement has become a real concern.  Employees will need to adapt to new roles and may or may not be resistant to doing so, and new ethical concerns will undoubtably arise. 

Since at least the ‘80’s, popular movies have made us consider what would happen if artificial intelligence (“AI”) become a reality.  In The Matrix, a robotic AI enslaved the human race, and The Terminator made us consider what could happen if robots start thinking for themselves (and possibly decide humans are no longer needed).  Although probably not inspired by box office hits, the Biden Administration, concerned about the fast pace in which AI has been advancing, issued an Executive Order directing the Department of Labor (DOL) to create a roadmap that advises employers and AI developers with principles aimed at taking advantage of AI technologies while protecting today’s workforce.  That Order, referred to as the Executive Order on the Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence, can be found here.

With input from the public, workers, employers, and developers, among others, the DOL developed “Artificial Intelligence and Worker Well-being: Principles for Developers and Employers.”

The DOL’s AI principles focus on several topics and provide the following:

  • Centering Worker Empowerment: Workers and their representatives, especially those from underserved communities, should be informed of and have genuine input in the design, development, testing, training, use, and oversight of AI systems for use in the workplace.
  • Ethically Developing AI: AI systems should be designed, developed, and trained in a way that protects workers.
  • Establishing AI Governance and Human Oversight: Organizations should have clear governance systems, procedures, human oversight, and evaluation processes for AI systems for use in the workplace.
  • Ensuring Transparency in AI Use: Employers should be transparent with workers and job seekers about the AI systems that are being used in the workplace.
  • Protecting Labor and Employment Rights: AI systems should not violate or undermine workers’ right to organize, health and safety rights, wage and hour rights, and anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation protections.
  • Using AI to Enable Workers: AI systems should assist, complement, and enable workers, and improve job quality.
  • Supporting Workers Impacted by AI: Employers should support or upskill workers during job transitions related to AI.
  • Ensuring Responsible Use of Worker Data: Workers’ data collected, used, or created by AI systems should be limited in scope and location, used only to support legitimate business aims, and protected and handled responsibly.

There is a strong focus on making AI advantageous for workers rather than threatening their jobs. In addition to the DOL’s principles, the White House has issued a fact sheet regarding “critical steps to protect workers from risks of artificial intelligence.”  The fact sheet makes it clear that the Biden administration wants workers to be more than just aware that there is AI in the workplace.  It suggests that workers have input in design, development, testing and oversight of AI, among other things.  Further, AI systems should not interfere workers’ rights to organize and should be aimed at improving job quality and supporting or upskilling workers.  A summary of the worker-focused Fact Sheet can be found here.

With the growth of AI tools and AI-driven business applications, employers are wise to keep well-apprised of legal developments that are sure to affect how they manage their businesses and employees.  AI is a reality that both employers and employees will need to navigate.

Source:  The Law at Work, Skoler Abbott, Marylou Fabbo, ESQ