Osgoode Hall Law professor named Canada Research Chair

Osgoode Hall Law School entrance to the Ignat Kaneff building

Professor Valerio De Stefano has been awarded a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Innovation, Law and Society. The Tier 2 CRC is valued at $600,000 over five years.

Valerio De Stefano

For a growing number of Canadian workers, the title of Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Valerio De Stefano’s new book rings particularly true: Your Boss is an Algorithm.

The book, co-authored with IE University law professor Antonio Aloisi and due for publication by Bloomsbury Collections and Hart Publishing in July, examines the expanding impact of robots, artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms and online platforms on the world of work and the potential regulatory options available to lawmakers.

Now De Stefano’s research has received a major boost with the federal government’s June 2 announcement that the labour law professor has been named as Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Innovation, Law and Society. The Tier 2 CRC is valued at $600,000 over five years.

“Of course, I am delighted and humbled by the grant,” said De Stefano, who recently came to Osgoode from KU Leuven University in Belgium, where he taught at the Faculty of Law.  

“The challenges and opportunities that arise from the use of AI systems in the world of work are enormous,” he added. “So it’s great that this Canada Research Chair will give me time and resources to focus my research on this breakthrough area.”

Vice-President Research and Innovation Amir Asif congratulated De Stefano on behalf of the York University community.

“Professor De Stefano will bridge the gap between research and policy to ensure disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence will introduce positive change to workplaces and the communities we serve and will support equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Asif. “The research aligns well with our University Academic Plan and Strategic Research Plan and contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

Osgoode Hall Law School Dean Mary Condon celebrated De Stefano’s achievement, saying the Osgoode community is proud to be hosting one of the world’s foremost experts in the dynamic area of the interaction between labour markets and technology.  

“Technology has raced ahead of regulation in this area,” said Condon. “Professor De Stefano’s important research will help address this imbalance and will provide legislators with guideposts for developing new protections for workers.”

Algorithmic management is particularly pervasive at digital platform companies like Uber, Door Dash or Instacart. But it doesn’t stop there. Algorithmic management technologies enable employers to electronically monitor workers, potentially keeping track of behaviours such as how often they go to the bathroom or the amount of time they take for lunch.

The growth of the so-called gig economy and the rise in remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic have made the issue of employee monitoring even more controversial. Ontario recently passed legislation that makes it the first province to legally require companies with 25 or more employees to inform workers how and why they’re being monitored. But in a recent Osgoode podcast, De Stefano argued that the Ontario law does not go far enough to protect workers.

De Stefano and law researcher Mathias Wouters of KU Leuven University recently published a report for the European Parliament assessing the European Union’s proposed legal framework for regulating algorithmic management technologies.

“The objective of my research is to define how the law can adequately address the challenges of these surveillance technologies and avoid the risks,” said De Stefano. “Regulation is essential for this technology to be used for the benefit of society. Only regulation can allow us to harvest the fruits of technology without trampling on people’s fundamental rights.”

De Stefano said he owes his success in large part to Osgoode’s foresight in proposing the Canada Research Chair in Innovation, Law and Society and for inviting applications from around the world. He said the law school and York provided him with outstanding support and resources in preparing the grant.

“Not only that,” he added, “but for these applications to be successful, you have to show that the host institution is already a place where excellent research is being carried out.

“Osgoode is already a global leader in research into labour regulation and on the law of innovation and technology,” said De Stefano, “so I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.”

This is the law school’s second Canada Research Chair. Professor Deborah McGregor, who is cross appointed with the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice.