Unions claim that employment law is failing to keep pace with AI

8 April 2021

A new report — carried out for the TUC by employment rights lawyers from the AI Law Consultancy — argues that there are huge gaps in British law and it is failing to keep pace with the rapid expansion of AI (Artificial Intelligence) in the workplace.

Technology Managing People — the legal implications, which can be found at here, argues that this could lead to widespread discrimination and unfair treatment at work.

It suggests that, unless urgent new legal protections are put in place, workers will become increasingly vulnerable and powerless to challenge “inhuman” forms of AI performance management.

The report highlights how AI-powered technologies are making “high risk, life-changing” decisions about workers’ lives including in the selection of candidates for interview, day-to-day line management, performance ratings, shift allocation and deciding who is disciplined or made redundant.

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

It has issued a call to tech companies, employers and the Government to support a new set legal reforms for the ethical use of AI at work.

Proposed reforms

The TUC suggests that these legal reforms should include:

  • 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.

More details can be found in Dignity at work and the AI revolution: A TUC manifesto, available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-03/The_AI_Revolution_20121_Manifesto_AW.pdf.

UNISON president Josie Bird, who signed the manifesto pledge for the union, said: “We need these reforms in the law to ensure all workers are treated fairly and without discrimination”.

Comment from BrightHR’s CEO Alan Price

A response on this from the Government is still pending. However, new laws around the use of AI in the workplace may well give employers some clarity on how to utilise AI technology and ultimately avoid costly tribunal claims.

That said, in light of the TUC’s points, employers may begin to review their use of AI to avoid unfair treatment of staff, not only to avoid tribunal claims but also to maintain staff morale.