Employment law in the AI era: The constructive dismissal problem

Changing roles due to automation without proper notice or preparation could create constructive dismissal liability
By Mitch Frazer, Lisa Talbot, Brad Tartick, Irfan Kara, and Pat Denroche
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 04/17/2019

The July 2, 1978 issue of the New York Times was the final one the paper sent to print under the linotype process. After decades of relying on Gutenburg printing press-style technology, the newspaper invested in a computerized method that would eliminate the need to physically cast each letter of every page into lead plates for the presses.

The automation and digitization of the “hot type” process did not leave linotype operators jobless, however. Those same employees who had run the hot metal typesetting machines were sitting in front of computers the next day, typing stories into a digital format rather than hammering them into place. Asked by the Times what the technological upgrade would mean for him personally, one employee responded, “it means I’ll have to learn a new process.” Automation helped these workers print newspapers more efficiently but it did not replace them.

Automation driven by artificial intelligence is likely to result in similar experiences for millions of workers. While artificial intelligence (AI) may render some jobs currently performed by people redundant, it will also create new positions that do not presently exist and expand the significance of many that already do. AI will lead to layoffs, but it will also require employers to retrain employees into new or different jobs.