Millions of Canadians lost their jobs in the wake of COVID-19. Federal aid is helping many stay afloat during this crisis, but many workers don’t understand their employment rights and are in no financial position to seek legal help. And they may be entitled to more compensation from their employers.
That’s why Queen’s University researchers Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu used artificial intelligence (AI) to build a tool to help Canadians navigate the system and figure out if they have a case for claiming severance.
“In the first few weeks of COVID-19’s arrival in Canada, we saw almost a million terminations and layoffs by employers across many different sectors,” said Dahan in a press release. “These Canadians may be offered less than what they are entitled to, but often have no way of knowing whether the offer is fair or how much they should expect.”
Dahan is the Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and assistant professor in the Faculty of Law, and Zhu is an assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Their combined expertise led to the creation of myopencourt.org, a suite of free online tools powered by AI to comb through a database of over nine million legal cases.
All users need to do is answer a few simple questionnaires to get more information on their rights, options, and an estimate of the severance they may be entitled to based on reasonable notice for dismissal. If they have a case, the site will help refer them to appropriate professional legal counsel at no cost.
For Dahan and Zhu, it’s a question of social justice. Many big law firms already have access to legal analytics like what they’ve developed, but low- to middle-income workers are often priced out of the justice system. Hiring a lawyer can be expensive, as these cases can require complex legal research, and often these workers don’t even know if they would have a solid case.
Even employers who want to give their workers a fair deal may not know what to offer, especially if they themselves operate a small business. This tool could help both sides resolve a dispute together.
“These tools are as valuable for employers as they are for workers,” said Dahan in a myopencourt.org blog post.
“Navigating employer-contractor relationships is challenging, and severance is difficult to calculate. We hope to provide both workers and employers with ways to avoid pitfalls and find equitable solutions to the challenges created by the pandemic.”