What happens when AI manages people?

July 2021

Who will give you your next job – a human or a robot? Do we have
the right laws in place to ensure fairness in the workplace?

Fears are rising that workers are being “hired and fired by algorithm”, and new AI employment laws are now needed to protect employees, says a report from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The report ‘Technology Managing People – the legal implications’ said that tech companies, employers, and government need to help create a new set of legal reforms for the ethical use of AI at work – to help fill in the “huge gaps” in UK employment law. The TUC believes that there needs to be a legal right to have any “high-risk” decision reviewed by a human.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady felt the use of AI at work stood at “a fork in the road”.

She said: “AI at work could be used to improve productivity and working lives. But it is already being used to make life-changing decisions about people at work – like who gets hired and fired. “Without fair rules, the use of AI at work could lead to widespread discrimination and unfair treatment – especially for those in insecure work and the gig economy.”

Hired and fired by algorithm

The report highlights how the use of AI has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, with AI-powered technologies now making “high-risk, life changing” decisions about workers’ lives.

These decisions include selecting candidates for interview, day-to-day line management, performance ratings, shift allocation and deciding who is disciplined or made redundant.

And AI is being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles. Left unchecked, the report warns that AI could lead to greater discrimination with workers in the gig economy and insecure work particularly at risk.

The TUC says that without the right to a human review of decisions, workers could be hired and fired entirely by algorithm. Lack of voice and transparency

The report warns of a huge lack of transparency over the use of AI at work, with many staff left in the dark over how AI is being used to make decisions that directly affect them.

TUC research published in November revealed that fewer than one in three (31%) workers are consulted when any new forms of technology are introduced.

And six in 10 (60%) said that unless carefully regulated, AI could increase unfair treatment in the workplace.

The TUC says employers must disclose to workers how AI is being used in the workplace to make decisions about them.

The union body believes the UK GDPR needs amending to ensure staff understand precisely how AI is operating at their workplace.

What the lawyers said

Leading AI and employment rights lawyers Robin Allen QC and Dee Masters said the TUC is right to call for urgent legislative changes to ensure that workers and companies can both enjoy the benefits of AI.

They explained: “Used properly, AI can change the world of work for good. Used in the wrong way it can be exceptionally dangerous. “There are currently huge gaps in British law when it comes to regulating AI at work. They must be plugged quickly to stop workers from being discriminated against and mistreated.

“Already important decisions are being made by machines. Accountability, transparency and accuracy need to be guaranteed by the legal system through the carefully crafted legal reforms we propose.

“There are clear red lines, which must not be crossed if work is not to become dehumanised.”

To see the report in full go to https://tinyurl.com/72dadzw3