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Michael Sippitt and Georgia Roberts comment for the HR Director on complex world of workplace AI

05 August 2019 #Employment #Press #Clarkslegal

“Artificial intelligence”. It’s in the news, it’s in our homes and will change the world of work as we know it. For Human Resource Professionals, knowing what’s coming has never been so important. Ensuring you are ahead of the game in preparing for the changes that are coming is paramount. Contributors Michael Sippitt, chairman Clarkslegal and Georgia Roberts, Solicitor – Clarkslegal.

HR are “people people”. Attributes of empathy, intuition and human experience are what makes you good at your job. These are not necessarily skills matched to implementing and utilising new technologies and upskilling your workforce to do the same. The attributes mentioned above are, for the moment, the skills that the robots are struggling to grasp. However, they may get there; there’s no time to waste

The predicted shift people often speak of is how mundane tasks will be automated, leaving humans to use their intuition, creativity and imagination. That may prove simply a phase in the evolution of how, long-term, AI proves better than humans at most workplace tasks. 

However, more immediately, what implications will introducing new technologies have on the working day? We all know the constant pressure to be more productive, and as technology reinforces productivity this could make our days more intensive. Employers may expect 8+ hours of constant “brain work”, with increased output the pay back for expensive investment in innovation will be getting more out of a smaller workforce. How will this impact employee well-being? Will employees want to work in such an environment and for how long? These are questions for HR.

What are the challenging legal implications of AI?

The answers to this question seem unlimited.

The problem is the law is reactive and evolves slowly. It usually lags well behind social and technological changes. There are also conflicting voices and interests. Moreover, in the world of AI, the pace of change and the practical effect on how people are expected to work are like nothing seen since the Industrial Revolution. It is likely, therefore, that Human Resource professionals will be asked to deal with workplace issues ahead of having a full picture on legal protection and remedies. 

The Government recently published the findings of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation on “Bias in Algorithmic Decision-Making”. It is good and timely that the ethics of AI are receiving this level of attention. The UK may play an important part in helping setting the rules others may follow as the law develops. In the executive summary, this very point is made: “Legislation in the UK covers some, but not all, manifestations of algorithmic bias”. It suggests that employees will be protected from discrimination in bias algorithms, but who bears the liability? 

Various legal issues will arise. How will an employer defend a claim an employee brings against an employer’s allegedly biased software? What due diligence did you consider to ensure no bias existed? The gaps in what technology offers and human control over it will no doubt widen with the speed of change we are experiencing. 

A huge challenge therefore is how HR professionals recognise and mitigate unlawful biases. For now, this is substantially about self-education and developing a sufficient understanding of these systems to ask the right questions and consider the risks. At another level, HR faces the legal challenges of restructurings, having to displace employees, alongside almost certainly changing working patterns, job descriptions, and terms and conditions. Restructuring is hard work and implementing major changes looks inevitable as technology begins to take over the workplace for many businesses.

How to keep employees motivated and engaged through this time? It will not be enough for Human Resource to manage and mitigate AI’s impact. HR professionals must engage and lead through this period of transformation to empower managers to keep faith with employees, help make the journey as painless (and hopefully as rewarding) as possible, and encourage employees who are part of such transformation to want to be part of the brave new world of work. 

There has never been a more challenging time to be a Human Resources professional and many will feel ill-equipped to handle the issues they will be facing. Yet HR is the glue of any business and its role will be vital to keeping balance, asking the right questions of new systems, and safeguarding employee trust and confidence.

Read article - Navigating the legally complex world of workplace AI


Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
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Michael Sippitt

Michael Sippitt

T: 0118 960 4642

Georgia  Roberts

Georgia Roberts

T: 0118 960 4655
M: 07884 188 976


Employment team
+44 (0)118 958 5321