Federal government warns employers against discriminatory hiring algorithms


As businesses are increasingly involve AI in their hiring processes, advocates, lawyers and researchers have continued to sound the alarm. Algorithms have been found to automatically assign candidates different scores based on arbitrary criteria as if they wear glasses or a scarf or have a shelf in the background. Hiring algorithms can penalize applicants for having a Black sounding namementioning a women’s collegeand even submitting their resume using some file types. They can disadvantage people who stutter or have physical disabilities that limit their ability to interact with a keyboard.

It all went largely unchecked. But now the US Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have proposed orientation on what companies and government agencies should do to ensure their use of AI in hiring is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We can’t let these tools become a high-tech route to discrimination,” EEOC President Charlotte Burrows said during a briefing with reporters on Thursday. The EEOC requires employers to disclose to applicants not only when algorithmic tools are used to assess them, but also what traits those algorithms assess.

“Today, we are ringing the alarm bells about the dangers associated with an indiscriminate reliance on AI and other technologies that we see increasingly used by employers,” the assistant attorney general said. civil rights, Kristen Clark, to reporters at the same press conference. “Today we are saying clearly that we must do more to remove the barriers faced by people with disabilities, and without a doubt: the use of AI is exacerbating the long-standing discrimination that jobseekers with disabilities are faced.”

The Federal Trade Commission has given general guidance on how companies can use algorithms in 2020 and even in 2021and a White House agency is working on a AI Bill of Rights, but these new guidelines outline how the two agencies will handle violations of federal civil rights law involving the use of algorithms. It also carries the credible threat of enforcement: the Department of Justice can sue companies, and the EEOC receives complaints of discrimination from job seekers and employees that can result in fines or lawsuits.

People with disabilities are unemployed at twice the national average, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. People with mental health-related disabilities also experience high unemployment rates, and Burrows says employers need to take steps to screen the software they use to ensure they don’t exclude people disabilities in the labor market.

A number of actions approved by the EEOC and DOJ on Thursday have already been suggested in a Center for Democracy and Technology 2020 report about the ways hiring software can discriminate against people with disabilities. They include eliminating automated disability screening and providing “reasonable accommodations” for people who might otherwise have difficulty engaging with the software or hardware involved in the hiring process. The CDT report also calls for audits of hiring algorithms before and after they go live — a step not included by the EEOC — and refers to biases against hiring people with disabilities online as an “invisible injustice.” .

As a teenager, Lydia XZ Brown thought filling out personality tests with job applications seemed like a fun or weird game. They can’t prove it, but they now suspect they were discriminated against when they applied for jobs in the mall near where they grew up in Massachusetts. Co-author of the 2020 CDT Employment Discrimination Report, Brown called Thursday’s advice a big win, after years of advocacy, for people like her with disabilities.


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