The federal government is warning employers that hiring AI must comply with civil rights laws

The EEOC has launched a new initiative to ensure AI isn’t a “high-tech pathway” to employment discrimination.
article cover

Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been focusing their feeble human intelligence on AI’s role in hiring since 2016.

This process may be slower than if we just let the machines police themselves, but the EEOC hopes a humanoid touch will keep the initiative from being too biased. In October, the EEOC chair, Charlotte Burrows, announced that the commission is launching a new initiative to ensure the use of AI in hiring complies “with federal civil rights laws that the agency enforces.”

Getting the EEOC’s attention: The role of AI in hiring made headlines in 2019 when HireVue, a digital recruiting company, became the subject of an FTC complaint, for the way it used AI for facial recognition during assessments, including during interviews. Critics alleged that HireVue’s methodology amounted to “pseudoscience” that didn’t predict anything about future job performance.

“Facial analysis has never been an independently and scientifically validated predictor of a person’s ability, capacity, or success in a role,” Merve Hickok, founder of and Lighthouse Career Consulting, told SHRM.

HireVue announced that they would no longer use facial analysis in its algorithms, but a Pandora’s box was already open: Government regulators, companies purchasing AI tech from vendors, and applicants alike wanted to know how these algorithms actually work under the hood. Were candidates being assessed fairly?

Companies like HireVue have begun to conduct third-party audits of their algorithms to check for systemic bias, but critics say that’s not enough. Enter the EEOC.

“Artificial intelligence and algorithmic decision-making tools have great potential to improve our lives, including in the area of employment,” Burrows said when announcing the new initiative. “At the same time, the EEOC is keenly aware that these tools may mask and perpetuate bias or create new discriminatory barriers to jobs. We must work to ensure that these new technologies do not become a high-tech pathway to discrimination.”

Zoom in: The agency will establish an internal working group to organize work on the initiative, hold listening sessions with stakeholders, consider “adoption, design, and impact of hiring and other employment-related technologies,” and produce technical assistance documents to guide companies’ use of AI.

The response from ethicists in the field is so far an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Charles Handler, the founder and president of Rocket Hire, a talent-assessment consulting firm, told HR Brew that AI isn’t inherently bad, but “when we introduce bias to machines, it scales and compounds.” He advises that companies need to think carefully about where they introduce AI and how they do so.—SV

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Contact Susanna Vogel via the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram (@SusannaVogel) or simply email [email protected].

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.