Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming embedded in day-to-day life in Ireland. As technology becomes more cost-efficient, many businesses in Ireland are beginning to see value in incorporating AI. Irish businesses report that AI, when used correctly, can help solve some of the most challenging employment law issues.
Claims made by job candidates against prospective employers have been on the rise in recent years in Ireland, mainly on discrimination grounds under the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015. Businesses have been developing AI solutions to make the recruitment process fairer and more objective. AI can improve the recruitment process through efficiency, speed, and advertising job openings to a more diverse pool of candidates. However, there is also a potential for discrimination in AI-assisted recruitment. This technology must be properly programmed before it can fully help businesses solve recruitment-related discrimination claims.
Textio (an “augmented writing” company that monitors and analyzes job descriptions and suggests alternative wording to engage candidates) and Headstart (an algorithm-based job placement company) are helping to make the recruitment process fairer and more diverse and reduce exposure to claims.
Recently, there has been a steady rise in disability complaints under the Employment Equality Acts, with a 43 percent increase in just the last year alone. Technology has the potential to help employees with disabilities remain in or return to the workforce more easily and to help businesses reasonably accommodate employees more cost-effectively. AI advances in areas such as predictive text, speech to text, and voice and visual recognition can assist both employees and potential employees with disabilities.
Numerous applications that make workplaces more accessible are available. For example, one app describes people, text, and objects aloud for people with low vision. Another allows people with mobility impairments to operate computers using eye control. There is also an app that enables users to access devices via fingerprint, iris scan, or facial recognition, rather than passwords, giving employees with learning and/or physical disabilities greater ease of access while keeping those devices secure. Voice-recognition software and smart speakers, when used in conjunction with workplace tools and applications, can significantly benefit employees with disabilities.
While gender pay gap reporting has yet to be introduced in Ireland, the prospect of this requirement and gender equality in workplaces more generally are major issues facing Irish businesses. These issues can be addressed through AI. AI can be used to foster greater gender diversity in workplaces, from tracking recruitment, bonuses, benefits, and career progression to accurately identifying gender pay gaps to creating flexible working arrangements through the use of virtual workspaces. AI has the potential to defeat any latent bias as well as any remaining issues following the first deadline of UK gender pay gap reporting. Similar Irish legislation is likely to be implemented in 2019, and discussion of the bill should include the use of AI as a solution.
There has been much discussion recently on the relationship between the various generations in Irish workplaces. We will soon have a generation of employees who have grown up surrounded by technology. Conversely, the William Fry Employment Report 2019, “Age in the Workplace,” found that 61 percent of the employers and employees surveyed believe that older workers are inhibited by technological change. This poses practical challenges for businesses, as evidenced by the 343 percent increase in age-related complaints brought under the Acts to the Workplace Relations Commission in 2018.
Flexibility in the workplace is a critical issue for younger generations, and legislation has been enacted to enable Irish workers to remain in the workplace longer, with a call for employers to respect active aging.
Because of the lack of legislation dealing with flexible working arrangements in Ireland, businesses have used AI to bridge this gap. Cisco Spark, a cloud-based work platform, provides a suite of apps that allow for group messaging, video calling, and desktop sharing, creating virtual workplaces that can be accessed from anywhere. These virtual workplaces give employees more flexibility and give businesses the assurance that work can still be performed productively.
AI poses challenges and opportunities for Irish employers and employees alike, and there will be financial and social costs in the early years of its adoption. However, AI can be used as a positive tool to help solve some of the most pressing employment law issues facing Irish businesses.
Written by Darran Brennan, Thérèse Chambers, and Richard Smith of William Fry LLC and Roger James of Ogletree Deakins
© 2019 William Fry and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.