TUC: Employment law gaps will lead to staff ‘hired and fired by algorithm’

Legal experts and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have warned that gaps in employment law will lead to staff “hired and fired by algorithm”.

A report, commissioned by the TUC and carried out by leading employment rights lawyers Robin Allen QC and Dee Masters from the AI Law Consultancy, claims there are “huge gaps” in British law.

“The TUC is right to call for urgent legislative changes to ensure that workers and companies can both enjoy the benefits of AI,” the lawyers say. “[Employment law gaps] must be plugged quickly to stop workers from being discriminated against and mistreated.”

The report warns that employment law is failing to keep pace with the rapid adoption of AI in the workplace and workers will become powerless to challenge “inhuman” forms of AI performance management.

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

Four legal reforms are proposed by the TUC:

  • A legal duty on employers to consult trade unions on the use of “high risk” and intrusive forms of AI in the workplace.
  • A legal right for all workers to have a human review of decisions made by AI systems so they can challenge decisions that are unfair and discriminatory.
  • Amendments to the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and Equality Act to guard against discriminatory algorithms.
  • A legal right to ‘switch off’ from work so workers can create “communication free” time in their lives.

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of automation to replace the productivity lost from having to furlough staff or make them redundant. The TUC notes how AI technologies are now making “high-risk, life-changing” decisions about workers’ lives—which is only likely to increase over the coming years.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, commented:

“This is a fork in the road. 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.

Every worker must have the right to have AI decisions reviewed by a human manager. And workplace AI must be harnessed for good, not to set punishing targets and rob workers of their dignity.”

The TUC is calling on tech companies, employers, and the government to support its proposed reforms.

A full copy of the report ‘Technology Managing People – the legal implications’ can be found here (PDF)

(Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash)

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