AI ethics

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has joined other federal departments and agencies calling for fairness, equality, justice and compliance as automated systems — including artificial intelligence or “AI” — become more commonly used. The department also emphasized that existing legal authorities apply to the use of automated systems and new technologies as they apply to other practices.

The Department of Justice, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Federal Trade Commission issued a joint statement on enforcement efforts in April 2023 to protect the public from bias in automated systems and artificial intelligence.

On April 4, 2024, the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and its Civil Rights Center underscored the importance of employers’ and other users’ responsibility to ensure that the development and use of these quickly evolving technologies are consistent with federal law.

“The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is committed to resolving discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity as tools like artificial intelligence become more commonly used,” says Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Acting Director Michele Hodge. “AI is not a stand-alone solution, and human oversight and interpretation are critical to ensuring the ethical and legal application of artificial intelligence.”

OFCCP holds contractors and subcontractors that do business with the federal government responsible for complying with the legal requirement to take affirmative action and not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. They are also prohibited from discharging or otherwise discriminating against applicants or employees who inquire about, discuss, or disclose their compensation or that of others, subject to certain limitations.

The CRC’s enforcement authority applies to recipients of financial assistance under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; American Job Center partners that offer programs or activities through the workforce development system; state and local governments and other public entities operating programs and activities related to labor and the workforce; and other recipients of financial assistance from, or programs conducted by the department. The CRC protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin — including limited English proficiency — as well as age, disability, political affiliation or belief, and citizenship status.

“The Civil Rights Center is mindful of increasingly rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and automated systems, such as algorithm-based hiring applications,” says Civil Rights Center Director Naomi Barry-Pérez. “We will act to ensure that such developments in the public workforce development system do not violate workers’ civil rights protections.”

The updated joint statement includes examples of OFCCP’s efforts to ensure equal employment opportunity, including an FAQ on the Validation of Employee Selection Procedures. The FAQ explains that the agency will analyze federal contractors’ use of AI-based selection procedures to ensure they align with other selection practices. To better identify discrimination related to AI and other automated systems, OFCCP recently updated its compliance review process to require documentation on policies, practices or systems used by federal contractors to recruit, screen and hire, including the use of artificial intelligence, algorithms, automated systems or other technology-based selection procedures. The updated statement will also reflect CRC’s enforcement authority related to AI and automated systems’ use.