Fisher Phillips has revved up an autonomous cars practice to address workplace issues driven by the fast-developing new technology.
Undeterred by recent slowdowns—and the inevitable liability issues—in the development of driverless vehicles, the national labor and employment firm has assembled a multidisciplinary practice to advise management on ancillary issues: workplace safety; labor, unionizing and collective bargaining; gig economy workers; employee defection and trade secrets; data privacy and security; and government advocacy.
Michael Greco, a specialist in trade secrets and restrictive covenants law, is leading the 23-lawyer practice from Denver for Fisher Phillips, which has more than 370 lawyers in 32 U.S. offices.
“Autonomous vehicles are on the brink of changing our lives in dramatic ways,” Greco said in a statement.
Standard and Poor’s predicts that driverless cars will make up a 2 percent to 30 percent share of vehicle sales by 2030. The emerging technology “will have profound impacts on how employers manage and interact with employees,” Greco said.
That includes companies involved in the development, production and operation of autonomous vehicles, ranging from manufacturers to trucking companies. What’s more, venture capital firms, private equity and multi-family housing investors that are investing in autonomous vehicles need advice in employment-related matters for their portfolio companies, according to Fisher Phillips.
The autonomous vehicles industry is “technology-based and information-driven,” the firm says, so departing employees present risks of trade secret theft and unfair competition. Information shared through the supply chain is also at risk.
Data privacy and cybersecurity are other big concerns, since driverless cars use extensive digital information to operate. An autonomous vehicle relies on external sensors—camera, radar and laser-based light rays called lidar—to “see” what’s around it and how to respond, guided by digital maps–all of which present hacking risks.
That will require massive upgrades to infrastructure, Fisher Phillips predicts, requiring government partnerships with the private sector that could raise employment issues for companies.
Autonomous vehicles are also being used increasingly in the workplace, presenting unique safety concerns to avoid accidents and make sure companies are compliant with government regulations.
What’s more, autonomous vehicles will likely reduce the number of employees in driving industries. The trucking industry employs almost 3.5 million workers, according to Fisher Phillips associate Anet Drapalski, in an entry in the firm’s new Autonomous Vehicles blog. Unions will fight the loss of these jobs, so new collective bargaining agreements are needed—while new jobs are expected in engineering, data analysis, cybersecurity and vehicle monitoring.