You may have been reading about how “Big Data” technologies are being used for a variety of purposes, such as making purchase suggestions based on prior buying patterns or staging law enforcement resources based on predictions for where and when crimes are likely to occur. But these technologies also are being used in the human resources context, such as to better select and manage applicants and employees, and can be of significant value to human resources leaders, and the company generally. Of course, there are mixed views about the use of this technology, as well as legal risks that should be considered.

Earlier this year, for example, a Forbes article explored the concern that if too heavy a weight is placed on “data” in the recruiting process, the human element can be lost and the business might not be capturing the top talent for the position. Others have observed that analytics tools in this context fall short in that they “don’t directly assess whether a person can do a job” and base recommendations on correlations that might not translate into good performance.

Certainly the role big data analytics tools can and should play in the workplace will depend on a range of factors, not the least of which is whether they can actually produce results. Employers that are considering whether these tools can positively impact HR decision making should also be considering the applicable risks when using this technology, even if “big data’s” recommendations are only one of many factors in the ultimate decision.

Attorneys at the EEOC, for example, are already considering the potential ways that using “big data” tools can violate existing employment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the American with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Law360 recently reported (registration required) on comments made by EEOC Assistant Legal Counsel Carol Miaskoff who discussed these potential risks and others during a workshop hosted by the Federal Trade Commission. There are, of course, a range of other potential issues including employee relations, labor relations, privacy and so on. At a minimum, employers need to proceed cautiously and be sure to maintain records that can verify their decisions were made lawfully.