Williams HR Law LLP

Balancing Innovation and Risk: Navigating AI Integration in Canadian Workplaces

June 13, 2024

A recent survey by KPMG suggests that one in five Canadians are using generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools to help them with their work or studies. Despite the widespread use of AI and its historical presence spanning decades, there are currently very few regulations in Canada specific to AI.

The spotlight on AI’s workplace implications has recently intensified, largely due to the emergence of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT. Given the potential legal and operational risks associated with AI, a number of employers have opted to ban the use of AI within their organizations. However, despite the risks associated with AI in the absence of proper oversight, the advantages it offers should not be overlooked as employers weigh the merits of integrating AI into their workplace fabric.

AI in Brief

AI simulates human-like intelligence in computers, enabling tasks to be performed that typically require human cognitive abilities such as learning, reasoning, problem solving, perception, and language understanding. AI systems use complex algorithms to process information from an ever-growing repository, adapting to new situations, and making decisions or predicting future events.

AI Applications in the Workplace

Employers can leverage AI in the workplace in numerous ways, including:

  • Automating Repetitive Tasks: AI can handle mundane and repetitive tasks, such as data entry, scheduling, and routine customer inquiries, freeing up employees for more strategic and creative work.
  • Predictive Analytics for Decision-Making: By analyzing historical data, AI can provide insights and predictions that assist in informed decision-making, helping businesses anticipate market trends and customer behaviour.
  • Data Analysis and Insights: AI tools process and analyze large datasets quickly, extracting valuable insights that guide strategic planning, marketing campaigns, and resource allocation.
  • Efficient Talent Acquisition: AI can automate parts of the recruitment process, screening resumes and identifying top candidates, saving time for HR teams.
  • Real-time Language Translation: AI-driven language translation tools facilitate communication and collaboration among global teams, overcoming language barriers.
  • Continuous Learning and Improvement: AI can adapt and learn from new data, enabling ongoing improvements in performance, accuracy, and customer interactions.
  • Enhancing Accessibility and Inclusion: AI can enhance workplace accessibility and inclusion in a number of ways, including by providing speech recognition, real time captions, and task automation to accommodate employees with disabilities.

Employers should consider how AI may be integrated within their workplaces to optimize operations, deliver better customer and employee experiences, make data driven decisions, and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Legal and Operational Risks of AI in the Workplace

In the absence of clear guidelines, adequate training, and other safeguards to ensure the responsible use of AI in the workplace, its usage can give rise to significant legal and operational risks. The KPMG survey indicates that a significant number of users of generative AI input confidential information into prompts and do not consistently verify the accuracy of the content generated by the AI. Notably, generative AI platforms have garnered a reputation for producing misleading or erroneous content, often referred to as “hallucinations”.

Some of the key legal and operational risks associated with AI in the workplace include:

  • Data Privacy, Security, and Confidentiality Breaches: When employees input sensitive data into AI tools, there is a risk of unintentional disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, data breaches, and unauthorized access, potentially leading to violations of data protection laws and compromising individual privacy.
  • Intellectual Property Concerns: There may be uncertainty regarding the ownership and copyright of AI-generated material, potentially leading to disputes over intellectual property rights. Employers should consider how AI may be integrated within their workplaces to optimize operations, deliver better customer and employee experiences, make data-driven decisions, and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.
  • Bias and Discrimination: AI systems can inherit biases from their training data, which may lead to biased decisions or actions. If AI tools are used to make hiring, promotion, or performance evaluation decisions, there is a risk of unintentional discrimination.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Depending on the industry, using AI may subject the organization to specific regulations or compliance requirements.
  • Accuracy, Transparency, and Justifiability: Given that AI tools rely on an underlying dataset which may contain errors, the output may be inaccurate. Further, employees might rely on AI-generated insights without fully understanding how those conclusions were reached. This lack of transparency can lead to decisions that are difficult to explain or justify.
  • Workforce Concerns: The introduction of AI tools might raise concerns among employees about job security, role changes, and potential displacement.
  • Operational Dependencies and Erosion of Human Skills: Over-reliance on AI tools without contingency plans can result in operational disruptions if the AI systems fail or produce unexpected results. Relatedly, over time, employees might become overly dependent on AI, leading to a potential erosion of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Best Practices for Employers

Implementing an outright ban on AI usage within the workplace could prove counterproductive over time, potentially causing employers to fall behind those who choose to embrace AI. A more balanced approach includes setting well-defined AI usage guidelines, offering thorough training, regularly assessing AI outcomes, and ensuring legal and regulatory compliance. Employers should consider the following best practices when permitting employees to use AI in the workplace:

  • Establish Clear Usage Guidelines: Develop comprehensive guidelines—through written policies or agreements—outlining how AI tools can be used, including their intended purposes, appropriate data inputs, and any prohibited activities.
  • Provide Adequate Training: Offer thorough training sessions to educate employees on how to effectively and responsibly use AI tools, ensuring they understand the capabilities, limitations, and potential risks associated with AI.
  • Promote Ethical AI Use: Encourage a culture of ethical AI use by emphasizing the importance of avoiding biased inputs, verifying AI-generated results, and adhering to ethical guidelines in decision-making.
  • Ensure Data Privacy: Prioritize data privacy by mandating that employees only input non-sensitive information into AI tools and establish protocols to safeguard sensitive data from breaches or unauthorized access.
  • AI Work Accounts: Create dedicated AI work accounts, exclusively designated for AI usage in the workplace. By retaining control over these accounts, employers can oversee how employees are using AI and detect any instances of confidential information being shared with AI tools. This approach allows employers to identify any training deficiencies and implement corrective measures to prevent future breaches of confidentiality.
  • Monitor for Bias: Regularly assess AI outputs for biases and discriminatory patterns and implement corrective measures to address any issues that arise, ensuring fair and unbiased decision-making.
  • Implement Review Processes: Introduce mechanisms for reviewing AI-generated content before it’s shared or acted upon, reducing the likelihood of errors, inaccuracies, or inappropriate outputs.
  • Create Contingency Plans: Develop contingency plans for scenarios where AI tools fail or produce unexpected outcomes, ensuring that employees are equipped to handle situations without disruptions.
  • Stay Compliant: Stay updated on relevant regulations and compliance requirements related to AI usage in your industry and ensure that all AI-related activities adhere to legal standards.
  • Measure Impact: Regularly assess the impact of AI tools on productivity, efficiency, and overall workflow, making adjustments as needed to optimize their integration into the workplace.

Recognizing the considerable variability in potential AI applications across different workplaces, employers should not only engage their IT departments, but also form committees that involve representatives from across the organization, when considering how AI may be leveraged in the organization. Employers should also obtain legal advice to support in evaluating the associated legal and operational risks, and establishing protocols to ensure its responsible use.

This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.