Insights Artificial Intelligence & Employment Law

On 11 August 2023, the House of Commons Library (HOCL) published a research briefing on ‘Artificial Intelligence and Employment Law’.

HOCL research papers are politically impartial and are compiled by the HOCL’s team of researchers and statisticians on a range of issues, with their ultimate aim to help Members of Parliament (MPs) scrutinise legislation, prepare for debates, develop policies and support their constituents. They therefore provide a useful insight into the material that is likely to be at MPs’ fingertips when contemplating important legislative changes.

With the current widespread debate regarding the development of a regulatory framework for artificial intelligence (AI) (which is clearly a pressing issue worldwide), this is obviously an area ripe for research and this recent briefing is therefore extremely topical. Focusing in particular on the use of AI in the workplace, it highlights the many issues employers will be grappling with in the coming years as AI-based workplace technologies become more available and widespread.

AI is set to be high on employers’ and HR teams’ priority lists in the coming months and years as they try to balance its practical benefits against the various concerns surrounding its use. Enabling AI to, for example, make fundamental decisions in the workplace, such as deciding who is promoted, hired, or fired removes the human element that is currently essential in making such decisions.

The key findings and themes from the research paper give a good account of the current ‘state of play’ in this area. While the full briefing is worth a read, we’ve summarised the key analysis below:

The research briefing initially highlights that there are no explicit employment laws governing the use of AI by UK employers, nor are there any notable laws in other jurisdictions. However, the current UK legal landscape does (perhaps unwittingly) provide some protection for staff against employer misuse of AI. Employers will need to continue to abide by the current legal considerations, and remain accountable to their staff for its decisions, whether or not AI has played a part.

Despite there being some understandable concerns, there is potential for AI to provide a plethora of benefits for employers in the digital age. For example, AI could assist employers in identifying the best talent for a role, alongside removing a large proportion of the administrative burden that hiring requires. The research briefing highlights that AI has also been used to generate ‘dynamic’ schedules for staff through the use of automatic shift allocation algorithms to forecast customer footfall, enabling businesses to respond to customer demand in real time.

The possible benefits must, however, be weighed up carefully against the very real concerns surrounding the use of such technology. The research briefing suggests these include, for example:

  • the potential for engrained AI biases against protected characteristics;
  • the perceived danger of removing the human element in decision making; and
  • the view that it may become harder to establish accountability for discriminatory decisions.

One of the most controversial areas flagged by the research briefing is the monitoring and surveillance of staff. On the one hand, capturing staffs’ unsent emails, webcam footage, microphone input and keystrokes may assist in improving productivity and workplace safety. However, it raises significant concerns about privacy and mental health, with the potential to lead to a culture of workplace distrust and micromanagement, which is unlikely to be the aim of any employer (particularly in an age where workplace ‘culture’ is understandably becoming more and more important for so many businesses).

The research paper concluded by considering the various international approaches to date in respect of AI regulation. If you’d like to find out more about the AI regulatory landscape, please see this article from our tech team which discusses developments in the UK and EU.

The HOCL research is useful and helps to shine a light on the potential implications of AI in the workplace that will no doubt be of use in Parliament as and when AI regulation is debated further. It could be some time though before we have regulation in this area, and in the meantime, it will be very interesting to see how employers balance the competing commercial interests of their businesses (which could be ripe for AI innovation) with potential HR risks. We will continue monitor this closely (but not through AI), so watch this space!