Tools built to automatically analyze workplace behavior can also overlook on-the-job accommodations — such as a quiet workstation for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or more frequent breaks for a pregnancy-related disability — that enable employees to modify their work conditions to perform their jobs successfully.
Experts have long warned that AI-based recruitment tools — while often pitched as a way of eliminating human bias — can actually entrench bias if they’re taking cues from industries where racial and gender disparities are already prevalent.
The move to crack down on the harms they can bring to people with disabilities reflects a broader push by President Joe Biden's administration to foster positive advancements in AI technology while reining in opaque and largely unregulated AI tools that are being used to make important decisions about people's lives.
“We totally recognize that there’s enormous potential to streamline things," said Charlotte Burrows, chair of the EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing laws against workplace discrimination. “But we cannot let these tools become a high-tech path to discrimination."
A scholar who has researched bias in AI hiring tools said holding employers accountable for the tools they use is a “great first step,” but added that more work is needed to rein in the vendors that make these tools. Doing so would likely be a job for another agency, such as the Federal Trade Commission, said Ifeoma Ajunwa, a University of North Carolina law professor and founding director of its AI Decision-Making Research Program.
“There is now a recognition of how these tools, which are usually deployed as an anti-bias intervention, might actually result in more bias – while also obfuscating it," Ajunwa said.
A Utah company that runs one of the best-known AI-based hiring tools – video interviewing service HireVue – said Thursday that it welcomes the new effort to educate workers, employers and vendors and highlighted its own work in studying how autistic applicants perform on its skills assessments.
“We agree with the EEOC and DOJ that employers should have accommodations for candidates with disabilities, including the ability to request an alternate path by which to be assessed,” said the statement from HireVue CEO Anthony Reynolds.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Anthony Reynolds' surname, which was provided incorrectly by HireVue.