UK employment law updates May 2024 – first worldwide rules on AI | flexible working and the menopause | General Election updates

In our May 2024 legal blog, the CIPD looks at how the EU’s agreed AI rules signal the first worldwide rules on artificial intelligence.  

We share how a flexible working request refusal transformed into a disability discrimination claim...after the employer did not attempt to fully recognise the impact of menopausal symptoms. 

Plus, the date of the General Election is now set... 

First worldwide rules on AI  

The Council of the EU have agreed the first dedicated worldwide law on AI.  In adopting the rules of the Artificial Intelligence Act the EU have confirmed that they will make a law which aims to stop any potential harmful effects of AI systems. 

The EU AI Act seeks to create different risk levels for certain types of the use of AI, with employment related data being categorised as “high risk”. Data categorised as high risk is subject to additional regulatory obligations, and there will be transparency requirements for organisations using AI. This act has now been formally adopted as of May 2024. It will take a few years for organisations to be held accountable to it, to allow for systems to be brought up to date.    

People professionals should be mindful that the Act will be legally enforceable in the EU single market (for all bodies operating there).  

Flexible working requests and the menopause 

 In a case that has passed through the tribunal system, it was deemed that an employee, who had severe menopausal symptoms and growing caring responsibilities, was discriminated against and unfairly dismissed. 

 In Johnson v Bronzeshield Lifting Ltd (2022), the employee had made clear to the employer that a number of menopausal symptoms were impacting her ability to work. In addition, she needed to take on additional caring responsibilities for her elderly parents.  

 The employer had granted a 10-month trial of flexible working hours. However, when a formal application to continue the flexible working arrangements was given at the end of the trial period (with altered hours to account for the menopause and caring responsibilities), the application was refused, and the employee resigned. 

 The employee won her claim for disability discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal.  

 The interesting points from the judges’ comments in the case relate to the manager’s inaction to understand the disability. In delivering the verdict, the judge writes: “It is plain also that...because the Claimant’s particular disability was menopause Mr Jones treated it as something he did not need to take into account. He did not ask about it and assumed (baselessly) that he would not understand it. This in our view reflected an attitude that because the medical condition in issue was menopause in particular rather than another condition it was not something that he had to go into or think about when dealing with the application.” 

 Employers would be wise to note that inaction can leave an organisation as culpable as unlawful. action, and that reasonable flexible working requests – particularly in light of recent extensions of laws in this area – can only be refused for one of the eight permitted business reasons 

 General Election 2024  

 With the 2024 General Election now set for 4 July 2024, attention turns to the potential impact on employment law and the world of work. People professionals are recommended to monitor updates from all parties, as well as consult the CIPD’s employment law timetable for major changes in this field. 

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