California and U.S. law have put into place several vital protections and rights for pregnant employees. These safeguards range from mandating that employers provide appropriate-sized uniforms and closer parking for pregnant employees to requiring allocated time for pumping breast milk. However, discrimination against pregnant employees is still a persistent issue in the workplace, and technology can be used to contribute to this mistreatment. AI technology, in particular, represents a looming threat.
How AI can be used to discriminate
Employers and businesses are already using AI to aid in hiring and staffing decisions. These AI algorithms can parse massive amounts of data, looking for trends and patterns.
Unfortunately, these algorithms generally tend to lack any “moral compass” or even awareness of state and federal law. An AI program will strive to achieve whatever goal it’s been created to carry out, and this can result in discriminatory practices.
With its enhanced ability to determine whether employees or prospective employees are pregnant, AI allows for intrusive and unfair labor practices in the hands of unscrupulous employers. Even more troubling, this type of discrimination can be unintended and indirect.
Discrimination by proxy
If it were as simple as mandating that AI algorithms can’t look for indicators of pregnancy, the problem would be simpler. However, AI can lead to discriminatory outcomes even without explicitly targeting status like pregnancy.
For example, AI might find or be programmed to regard employees who miss fewer days of work as “better” employees. As a general rule, this will lump most pregnant employees in with “bad” employees.
Another similar instance of discrimination by proxy might be looking for gaps in employment history, which frequently exist for mothers. While there’s no direct intent to identify pregnant women, these AI algorithms can effectively do so.
Pregnancy is a protected status, and employers must treat their pregnant employees fairly. AI technology represents a danger in this area as it allows employers to potentially discriminate against pregnant employees in a variety of ways.