June 6, 2024

Department of Labor Releases AI Principles for Worker Well-Being

On May 16, the Department of Labor (DOL) introduced a set of principles aimed at guiding employers and developers in creating and deploying artificial intelligence (AI) technologies while protecting workers’ rights and job quality. According to DOL’s press release, “the AI principles emphasize ethical development; transparency in its use; meaningful worker engagement in system design, use, governance and oversight; protection of workers’ rights; and use of AI to enhance work.”

DOL’s webpage about the new principles explains that the impact of AI technologies on the workplace remains uncertain. Although workers may benefit from the automation of routine tasks, and the introduction of AI will create new skills and job opportunities, “AI-augmented work also poses risks if workers no longer have autonomy and direction over their work or their job quality declines,” DOL states. Risks for workers are greater if AI technologies are deployed in ways that undermine workers’ rights, further entrench discrimination and bias, or drive consequential decisions without adequate transparency and oversight. Workers may also be displaced from their jobs by increased reliance on AI technologies.

“Centering worker empowerment” is listed as the “North Star” of DOL’s AI principles. “Workers and their representatives, especially those from underserved communities, should be informed of and have genuine input in the design, development, testing, training, use, and oversight of AI systems for use in the workplace,” DOL states. Other principles emphasize ethical development of AI, governance and human oversight for AI systems in workplaces, ensuring transparency in the use of AI, protecting labor and employment rights, the use of AI systems to complement and enable workers, supporting workers during job transitions related to AI, and ensuring responsible use of workers’ data in relation to AI technologies.

The principles were developed with input from workers, unions, researchers, academics, employers, and developers, as well as public listening sessions. DOL intends the principles to apply to the entire lifecycle of AI technologies and to all sectors, although it acknowledges not all principles will apply to every industry or workplace to the same extent. The principles are meant to be a guiding framework, not an exhaustive list.

DOL’s AI principles may be read on the department’s website.