What Should Employers Know about AI in the Workplace?

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The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace is rapidly increasing across different industries. While many people may picture robots replacing humans in fast-food restaurants, utilization of AI in the workplace has been much more comprehensive: it has been leveraged in such fields as healthcare, factory work, computer programming, and human resources, just to name a few.

In simple terms, there are two basic types of AI: traditional AI makes decisions based on pre-programmed rules, formulas, or data, whereas generative AI uses models to create new content, including text and images.

The Benefits of AI at Work

AI can be an extremely powerful and valuable resource for businesses. AI has the potential to decrease costs, improve productivity, minimize human error on manual or repetitive tasks, reduce employee burn-out, perform labor-intensive tasks (such as data management and analysis), and improve the customer service experience. Notably, AI also has the ability to operate around the clock, unlike human workers who need daily sleep to recharge, thereby improving efficiency and increasing business profitability.

AI is often used by human resources teams, especially in the hiring process. AI can analyze resumes, generate job descriptions, and write personalized candidate emails, among other capabilities. AI can also assist with employee onboarding, administrative tasks, and job training, and can create and analyze engagement and other types of employee surveys.

The Challenges of AI at Work

While the potential benefits from implementing AI in the workplace are promising for businesses, there are also many associated risks. Two prominent labor strikes were sparked in part by the potential dangers of using AI in employment, namely those of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents writers in television, film, and online media, and SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors and other media professionals.

These strikes were in part concerned with job security, specifically the potential threat that AI would replace human workers. After striking for 148 days, the WGA successfully obtained protections against the use of AI in scriptwriting. SAG-AFTRA, reaching a contract deal after striking for 118 days, fought to protect actors where AI can potentially replicate and duplicate a performer’s image or voice.

Employee privacy is another growing concern, as AI programs and software can be used to monitor employees, including tracking their movements, audio, attendance, and break times, and can even analyze facial expressions. And when AI is used by human resources, there is a risk of bias in the hiring process, since AI can sometimes eliminate or otherwise discriminate against job candidates based on race, gender, age, and other protected characteristics.

Implementing various AI initiatives in the workplace is also costly. Depending on the size and needs of the business, and the extent to which AI is used, it can cost anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and potentially even more.

What Are Employers to Do?

Although the use of AI could trigger legal liability in certain domains, such as anti-discrimination law, currently there are no federal laws that standardize the use of AI in employment. Illinois is one of the few states that has any workplace-related AI legislation. Enacted in 2020, its Artificial Intelligence Video Interview Act mandates certain responsibilities for employers who have job applicants record video interviews and use AI to analyze those videos. Such responsibilities include certain notice, consent, and confidentiality requirements.

Beyond the law, there are several best practices for employers who wish to use AI in the workplace:

  • Maintain privacy. When searching for an AI tool, ensure that it does not improperly capture employee data; laws may differ depending on your jurisdiction. If you are already using AI, conduct an audit to ensure no impermissible information is being saved, and that permissible information is being securely stored and available only to those who need access to it.
  • Guard against discrimination. AI has been found to output discriminatory results in hiring practices and through other uses. Ask questions of any software provider to ensure you are satisfied that a tool is as free of bias as possible. Conduct regular audits to ensure the tool is providing helpful—and legally permissible—information.
  • Remain transparent. Employers should maintain transparency regarding the ways in which it uses AI or plans to use it. Further, explain to employees how the organization is actively working to safeguard employees’ privacy.
  • Draft and disseminate policies. Employers should add AI policies in employee handbook and incorporate AI into existing privacy policies and procedures. If you are unsure about whether a practice complies with existing privacy law, anti-discrimination law, or other laws affecting employment, speak with a knowledgeable employment attorney.
  • Train workers. Employers should properly train all employees who utilize any AI systems. In addition to know-how regarding functioning, employees should be instructed on how to maintain privacy and reduce the risk of confidentiality breaches, and how to spot potential discriminatory AI operations and outputs.

All signs point to AI being here to stay. As AI rapidly evolves, both businesses and the law must catch up. Employers who follow these steps can ensure that AI complements and enriches the workplace and their employees’ experience at work, rather than causing confusion and fear.