Automation is hardly a brand new menace to employees. Lengthy earlier than the arrival of COVID-19 disrupted companies, many manufacturing executives have been already altering how their firms assembled merchandise, and different industries have been contemplating following swimsuit.

However as the worldwide disaster has dragged on, the pandemic may very well be accelerating that shift.

“Each time there’s a disruption it forces individuals to make choices,” says Tom Smith, an affiliate professor of finance at Emory College’s Goizueta Enterprise Faculty. “I might put cash on the truth that this has sped up no less than the decision-making course of. When, rapidly, you’re in a disaster, sensible and artistic individuals discover options. Inventive individuals don’t let the disaster take every thing down in the event that they might help it.”

Just below 40% of U.S. jobs are at significant risk of being automated, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). Greater than 10% of the nation’s jobs are at excessive threat. A number of different nations are at notably greater ranges.

Long run, that would imply a workforce with new core expertise, together with analytical and significant considering and enhanced creativity, however the quick time period may very well be quite a bit rockier—information that doubtless isn’t welcome to individuals who have already been furloughed or quickly laid off.

“There’s a distinction between how individuals behave and the way they need to behave,” says Smith. “Corporations used to have obligations to their employees. That’s simply not the case anymore. Staff are disposable. So, when you automate, you’ve zero duty to the employees. I’m not saying that’s proper or the moral factor, however firms simply don’t really feel they’ve any duty for his or her employees as soon as they’ve been displaced. The reality is that employees are going to get a pink slip and a sheet cake.”

Probably the most priceless expertise, in fact, might be tied to the use and design of know-how, together with these automation techniques. However the public well being disaster has disrupted an already sluggish uptake in these worldwide. That solely will increase the menace to employees.

“The shortage of sufficient digital expertise not solely hampers the diffusion of [information and communications technology] but additionally exacerbates the chance of job losses associated to automation,” stated the WEF. “In 16 of 27 OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] nations, digital expertise scores have declined over the previous 4 years, making it harder for employees to transition to new roles.”

Automation isn’t as scary because it was a 12 months in the past. The pandemic has highlighted the benefits of delegating some obligations to machines, letting people give attention to extra vital points and permitting for extra social distancing.

It received’t, although, erase among the societal issues which have come into focus up to now 12 months—and, some specialists warn, it might intensify them. 

“The productiveness and effectivity positive aspects of technological change might be a internet optimistic for society. Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply we’ve no cause for concern,” wrote Marcus Casey, a nonresident fellow within the financial research program on the Brookings Establishment in a blog post final month. “Advances in automation and A.I. have the potential to amplify most of the challenges at present dealing with our society: earnings and wealth inequality, focus of company energy, lowered upward mobility, and chronic incapacity, gender, and racial discrimination.”

Given how briskly the pandemic shut down sure industries, many firms may very well be taking a a lot nearer have a look at their capital construction—and what it’s going to appear to be in years to return. And the query on many government minds is whether or not they need to contemplate changing workers with automation, if solely so their firm doesn’t need to shut down fully ought to one other pandemic come up.

“When you’ve a disruption within the financial system like this, it offers plenty of firms an additional nudge to reexamine how they go about doing enterprise,” says Smith. “There’s little question that nudge has been a extremely sturdy rib breaker this time. I’ve to imagine this financial disruption is inflicting plenty of firms to reevaluate what their manufacturing course of appears like.”

The excellent news for workers is that automation isn’t one thing that may be entered into on a whim. The coronavirus has impacted revenues at a large swath of firms, and there’s a major capital outlay to transitioning to an automatic system. Corporations, in essence, substitute one set of bills for one more, with an eye fixed on the long-term financial savings.

And whereas automation is increasing past manufacturing to every thing from meals service to grocery shops to name facilities, there are some companies the place the employees can relaxation pretty straightforward they received’t get replaced by know-how.

“If you happen to’re a brick-and-mortar bar, and other people come as a result of they just like the popcorn and bartender, there’s no quantity of automation that may maintain that bar in enterprise,” says Smith.

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