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Staff would still use AI at work, even if it was banned; workplace rules can be challenged

In this week's top HR news: staff would still use AI at work - even if it was banned; the NLRB clears the way for employees to challenge workplace rules

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Aug 4, 2023

Most workers would still use AI – even if their workplace banned it

AI tools are more embedded amongst workers than HR departments might have previously thought, according to new research revealed this week. New data from data analytics firm, CybSafe has found half of all respondents it spoke to reported using AI at work, with a third using it weekly and 12% daily. But a second surprising fact was that 74% of US workers claim the benefits of AI tools outweigh their security risks, with most admitting they would carry on using the tools even if bosses banned them. Amongst US workers, the most common uses of AI tool were for research, copywriting and data analysis – at 44%, 40% and 38% respectively. AI tools were also employed for other tasks, including helping with customer service (24%) and code writing (15%). But Dr Jason Nurse, CybSafe’s director of science and research, said the stats present worrying findings: “We also found a worrying 64% of US workers say they have entered information pertaining to their work into generative AI tools, and 28% weren’t sure if they had.” He added: “A massive 93% of workers are potentially sharing confidential information with AI. And the icing on the cake is that 38% of US workers admit to sharing data with AI that they wouldn’t “in a bar to a friend.” He continued: “Our behavior at work is shifting, and we are increasingly relying on Generative AI tools. Understanding and managing this change is crucial.”

NLRB allows workplace rules to be challenged…

The National Labor Relations Board has deemed that workplace rules can be contested if employees believe they restrict their rights – in a move that effectively allows employees to question if a workplace rules are legal. Employer policies will be ruled unlawful if an employee interprets them as reasonably restricting their rights, even if the rule could also be interpreted as not restricting workers’ rights, said the board. According to NLRB chair, Lauren McFerran, companies can give “too little consideration to the chilling effect that work rules can have on workers’ labor law rights.” She added: “Under the new standard, the Board will carefully consider both the potential impact of work rules on employees and the interests that employers articulate in support of their rules.” The NLRB’s legal framework for work rules could now have significant impact in both union and nonunion workplaces. The lawfulness of employer policies on a wide range of issues has been heavily litigated at the board in the past decade.

…as lawmakers also seek to relax marijuana restrictions for federal staff

Bi-partisan lawmakers have introduced legislation that seeks to get rid of existing rules that bar federal employment opportunities for past and current marijuana users. The bill – the Cannabis Users Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act – wants the federal government to catch up with what bill promoters Jamie Raskin and Nancy Mace call the “widely established legal use of medical and recreational cannabis.” In a statement, Raskin said: “I am proud to partner with my friend, Representative Mace, to introduce the bipartisan CURE Act that will eliminate the draconian, failed and obsolete marijuana policies that prevent talented individuals from becoming honorable public servants in their own government.” If passed, the CURE Act would prevent past or current marijuana use from being the basis for an applicant being found unsuitable for federal employment, or the denial of a security clearance for federal workers. The legislation would also be applied retroactively, allowing workers or applicants who have previously been denied employment or a security clearance to appeal such denials.

Recent heat hits number of hours worked

Data shows there has been a direct correlation between the record temperatures some states have experienced in the past few weeks, and its impact on working hours. In Memphis, which recorded 11 days with temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more in July, workers worked 5.1% fewer hours in the first two weeks of July. Meanwhile, in New Orleans (which saw 26 days in the 90s), workers there worked 5.7% few hours in the first two weeks of July. Nationally small business employees put in 0.9% less hours in the first half of July, as business owners were forced to shorten hours to adjust for fewer customers or also tried to protect employees from too much heat exposure. By contrast, businesses in cities that experienced shorter heat waves were able to increase hours of operation and the number of employees working: Boston – which had just two days in the 90s – saw the largest month-to-month increase in the number of hours worked by employees, at 7.8%. Some employers in labor intensive outdoor industries elected to work earlier in the day, when temperatures are lower, rather than cutting them altogether, according to Travis Parsons, director of occupational safety and health for Laborers International Union of North America, which represents half a million builders and construction workers across the US and Canada.

Poor mental health costs US economy $47 billion in lost productivity

New data from Gallup reveals that nearly one in five (19%) of Americans rate their mental health as being ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ – contributing to 12 days’ unplanned absence per year, resulting in an annual cost of $47.6 billion in lost productivity for the US economy. The survey – which also finds that 33% of US workers say their job has a “somewhat negative” impact on their mental health – has been described as a “wake-up call” by Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup National Health and Wellbeing Index. The data found 7% of workers said their job had an “extremely negative” impact on their mental health, with only 13% saying their mental health was ‘excellent’ and 34% saying it was ‘very good’. The Gallup survey also found 33% of workers were uncertain about whether their employer actually provides easily accessible mental health support services, while 24% confirmed that such services are not available. Most unplanned absences were found to be down to burnout, therapy appointments during work hours or the need for mental health days to recharge.

Mandated return to office demands proven to increase attrition

Should companies mandate a return to the office, or gently ask that it happens? For CHROs the former option has long been seen as something of a gamble – threatening, as it does, to alienate staff. And now, the price of this gamble has been revealed – and it’s more costly to employers than they originally thought. Unispace’s recent Returning for Good report finds that nearly half (42%) of companies with return-to-office mandates witnessed a higher level of employee attrition than they had anticipated. And almost a third (29%) of companies enforcing office returns sais they are now struggling with recruitment. The data suggests employees would be more open to returning to the office – but only if it was offered as a choice. Unispace found employees felt less happy in the office, less motivated, and less excited when they had mandated office returns.

US job openings hit two-year low

While layoffs might have fallen for the last three months running, new data also suggests US job openings fell to their lowest level for two years in June – underlining the delicate state the jobs market is still in. Reuters reports that job openings fell by 34,000, to 9.582 million in June, with all the signs that the labor market remains tight. Impacting job openings has been the collapse of resignations. The level at which people are quitting their jobs is now at its lowest since April 2020. Resignations dropped 295,000 to 3.772 million. As a result, the quit rate, viewed as a measure of labor market confidence, fell to from 2.6% in May to 2.6% in June. Workers clearly do not feel brave enough to throw in their job and seek greener pastures elsewhere. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLT) survey for June revealed transportation, warehousing and utilities had 78,000 fewer open positions, although there were an additional 136,000 job openings in healthcare and social assistance, while vacancies increased by 62,000 in state and local government, excluding education. Overall, hiring dropped 326,000 to 5.905 million, the lowest level since February 2021. The hire rate fell from 4.0% in May to 3.8% in June. It is now at its lowest since the first wave of the pandemic.

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