Ask Kate: my employee's been using AI to do their work. Help!

  • Employee Conduct
People in a meeting
Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

Whenever a staff issue comes up, Peninsula advisers are on hand to help. There’s no query too big, too small, or too bizarre for our experts to unpack.

So, if you’re sitting on a query, don’t hesitate to ask. It’s what keeps our Peninsula clients safe and successful all year round and gives them the peace of mind to focus on their business.

This caller found out their employee had been using AI to complete work tasks under the radar. So, they asked Kate Palmer, Peninsula’s HR Advice and Consultancy Director, for expert advice…

Here’s what they had to say…

Hi Kate

I work in publishing, and recently I found out that one of my employees has been using an AI tool to write some of their articles without telling me. I found this out from another employee who told me in confidence. I want to know if my employee has breached data protection laws and if there are any risks to my business. But I’m not sure how to proceed. Help!

­-Anon

Kate’s reply was…

Hi Anon,

I’m sorry to hear you’re in such a tough situation. Trust is the most important element of any employer-employee relationship. And once it’s broken, it’s very difficult to repair.

More and more businesses (and their employees) are taking advantage of AI in order to save time on their tasks and avoid ‘human error mistakes’, but they don’t realise the potential risks of using such tools.

“one of my employees has been using an AI tool to write some of their articles without telling me”

The first issue that stands out to me is the fact that your employee did this without your knowledge. And while they may have violated your trust, they may have also knowingly or unknowingly violated the terms of their contract.

You’re likely to have something in your terms of employment about your employees carrying out their tasks themselves. And if they’re using AI tools to do the work for them, then there’s the problem of them being paid for work they didn’t do.

So, I would first check your employment contract to see what it says about your employee’s duties and delegating tasks. Now, onto your next point…

“I want to know if my employee has breached data protection laws and if there are any risks to my business”

Well, that depends. Writing articles using AI might not seem to pose any obvious risks, but my concern is whether your employee has been putting any sensitive company data into the AI tool. Because if they have, that’s when your data may be vulnerable to cyber and phishing attacks.

There’s also the risk of copyright infringements. You see, the problem with using AI to create intellectual property is that you don’t know who the actual owner of the intellectual property is. If the AI has created it, who has the rights? Probably not your employee.

And if your employee has been using AI to generate content, it’s possible that there could be plagiarism in the work. That’s because the AI tool may generate content by using existing content that appears on the internet, rather than producing original work.

If that is the case and your employee is passing off the work as their own, they could be in legal trouble.

Aside from plagiarism, you then have the issue of quality control. Because even though an AI may be able to produce content, it’s possible that the content an AI generates might not be accurate or read particularly well. So, someone still needs to manually fact-check and edit the content before it goes out.

“I’m not sure how to proceed”

You should treat this as a disciplinary issue. Consider all evidence you collect as part of your investigation. It may be that your employee didn’t know they weren’t allowed to use AI for their work. Check if there’s any mention of AI use in your policies.

And whatever disciplinary outcome you decide, you would need to carry out a full and fair disciplinary procedure before you make that final decision.

It may also be worth setting up a written Artificial Intelligence policy. And, if you haven’t already, update your existing employment agreements to make sure all your staff know what they can and can’t do with AI tools. That’s if you allow them to use them at all.

And if you have any concerns about a possible data security breach or need further advice on the disciplinary process, please give us a call.

All the best,

Kate.

P.S. Got a HR query or staff problem? Call 0800 028 2420 to get advice today.

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