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Increased use of AI could lead to widespread employee discrimination

Gaps in UK law over the use of AI at work could lead to widespread discrimination and unfair treatment at work.

Employment law has failed to keep pace with the expansion of AI at work, according to a new report by the TUC and the AI Law Consultancy.

The report found six in 10 (60%) UK employees said unless carefully regulated, AI could increase unfair treatment in the workplace, as they fear they could be left in the dark over how AI is being used to make decisions that directly affect them.

Unless urgent new legal protections are put in place the TUC has said workers will become increasingly vulnerable and powerless to challenge what it deems inhuman forms of AI performance management, for example the monitoring of time spent at the computer.

The union has also issued a joint call to tech companies, employers and government to support a new set of legal reforms for the ethical use of AI at work.

Kate Palmer, HR advice director at Peninsula, said employers must ensure employees’ rights are protected if AI is introduced into a business.

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “Failing to take a zero-tolerance stance against discrimination can have a drastically negative impact on businesses in various ways.

“Not only is a business opening itself up to paying unlimited amounts of compensation to successful claimants at an employment tribunal, which will affect the business's financial sustainability, but the reputation of the business will also be compromised.”

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The report highlighted 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.

AI is also being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles.

Left unchecked, the report warned AI could lead to greater discrimination with workers in the gig economy and insecure work particularly at risk.

Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, said HR teams need to be prepared for how AI can impact the workforce.

He said: “A shift in mindset is needed to embrace AI in the workplace to ensure it isn't seen as a replacement for humans, but a new way humans and technology can work together.

“HR should consider how the message will be communicated to employees and be prepared to answer questions from a concerned workforce.”

Price added that a good change management culture will be key to do this.  

He said: “Investment in upskilling current staff should also be on HR’s agenda.”