Artificial intelligence, if left largely unchecked, could lead to a rise in unfair treatment and discrimination in the workplace, a report by the TUC warns.

The TUC has warned of the “huge gaps” that exist within British law currently which could lead to widespread discrimination and unfair treatment at work if AI is not regulated.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has often been cited as a tool which could be utilised to help reduce the amount of discrimination and unconscious bias which exists in the workplace.

However, the danger behind this theory has already been proven by an AI used by Amazon. In 2014, Amazon used a specialist recruitment AI which was meant to select the best candidates for a job role.

However, due to the information inputted which already had a bias towards male candidates, it was not long after until the decisions made by the AI also started reflecting this. Many female candidates were overlooked and Amazon were forced to discontinue use of the AI.

This treatment is something that could be set to become widespread if regulations are not implemented, the TUC say.

Their report states workers will become increasingly vulnerable and powerless to challenge “inhuman” forms of AI performance management. This could mean Artificial Intelligence will now be making “high-risk, life changing decisions” including hiring and firing employees.

Groups which could be particularly impacted includes workers in the gig economy and insecure work. Again, this was already seen when ride-hailing app Uber was taken to court by drivers who were allegedly fired through the company’s use of automated algorithms in 2020.

The use of AI within the workplace is only growing, especially in light of COVID-19 and digital transformations which have been sped up as a result. AI is now currently even being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles.

However, the TUC have stated that there needs to be a human review of decisions to prevent wrongful hiring and firing from occurring.

The TUC have previously been vocal about the need for employees to have transparency regarding AI and what decisions these are making, with over nine in 10 current workers being unaware of whether their company has even implemented AI.

As such, the report calls for several legal reforms to be put into place, including:

  • 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.

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

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.


*This research was taken from the report ‘A report for the Trades Union Congress by the AI law consultancy’ which was published in March 2021.