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  • Writer's pictureDan Malkoun

Looking ahead! A read from our Managing Director

As 2023 winds down and a new year is just over the horizon, employers are wondering what HR and employment law issues are around the corner. For the new year, the biggest employment law trends include more employers bringing workers back to the office, an emphasis on workplace culture, and the exploding use of artificial intelligence in hiring and HR functions.



Return to work

By all accounts, 2024 looks like it will be the year of the return to the office. While many employees continue to work remotely, more and more employers are asking workers to come back to the office, at least for a few days per week.


A recent study found that 90% of employers plan to implement a return-to-the-office policy in 2024.  Even Zoom — the company that gave us the technology that so many of us relied on to work remotely during the pandemic — is asking many of its employees to return to the office two days per week.  Only 2% of employers say that they will never ask workers to come back to the office.


Employers who are considering implementing a return-to-the-office policy should give thought to how the policy is structured and implemented, and they should work with employment counsel to help minimize risks and ensure a smooth rollout.

Employers should give thought to crafting a policy that is fair and that will be consistently applied in order to reduce the risk of claims that the policy is discriminatory or selectively enforced. Employers should also pay careful attention to requests from employees for exemption or variation from a return-to-work policy as a reasonable accommodation for a disability.


After more than three years of employees productively working remotely, it may be more challenging for an employer to assert that an employee’s request for remote work is an “undue hardship.”


Workplace culture

Skilled labour shortages are making it harder for all kinds of employers to fill open positions. One of the best ways for employers to hire and retain quality talent is to foster a healthy workplace culture, which will help attract candidates and reduce turnover. A positive workplace culture based on strong company values can reduce the risk of discrimination and harassment claims by ensuring that all employees are treated with respect and dignity.

 


Artificial intelligence

Employers are looking at new ways to incorporate AI into the hiring process and the automation of certain HR functions.  While this new technology offers some exciting opportunities for employers, some caution is needed especially while the kinks are still being worked out of the software.


One of the biggest concerns with the use of AI in the workplace is the potential for unrecognized racial and gender bias in the software’s output, which would be particularly risky if employers are using AI to assist in the hiring process, such as for the screening of applications and resumes, or in the administration of pre-hiring questionnaires or automated “interviews.”


In order to minimize some of these risks, the countries are instigating frameworks for a AI which all include some principles that employers could incorporate into plans for the use of AI in HR systems, including:

  • Ensuring that the AI systems used by employers are safe and effective.

  • Having safeguards in place to prevent, test for and identify unintended discrimination in the system’s algorithms.

  • Making sure that candidates’ and employees’ personal data is safeguarded.

  • Employers should disclose to employees and candidates that AI systems are being used.

  • Employers should provide a human “fallback” to the system, both to monitor the outputs but also to assist any employees or candidates who run into trouble accessing the system.

As we get ready for 2024, employers should make a New Year’s resolution to review their employment policies and practices to ensure that they are complying with national law and global guidance. Employment counsel can help employers navigate the basics and the newest challenges.

 

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