By now, you’ve likely heard of ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot first launched in late 2022 (and if you haven’t, here’s a helpful primer). Seemingly every day, I read about novel uses for this tool. At a recent seminar I attended, a panelist mentioned that he was using it for employee counseling scripting, especially when he was upset about an employee’s performance, because he knew he couldn’t (and shouldn’t!) use the language he wanted to use.
That got me thinking about the potential to use ChatGPT for all kinds of employee counseling. Specifically, I wondered whether ChatGPT could be a tool to reduce implicit bias and help managers and HR professionals more productively engage with employees, especially in situations that can be fraught with legal landmines.
I tested out a few examples, two of which I’ll include below, along with my critique of how ChatGPT performed.
My prompt: “Write an employee counseling script for a manager who needs to speak with an employee who has exhausted her FMLA eligibility but who says she is not ready to come back to work. The company policy says that the employee should be terminated.”
Chat GPT’s response:
Manager: Hello, [employee name], thank you for coming in to speak with me today.
Employee: Hi, thank you for seeing me.
Manager: I wanted to talk to you about your leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As you know, your FMLA eligibility has been exhausted, and we need to discuss your return to work.
Employee: Yes, I understand. I’m just not ready to come back yet.
Manager: I understand that you may not be ready, but unfortunately, our company policy states that employees who exhaust their FMLA eligibility and are unable to return to work will be terminated. I wanted to talk to you today to see if there’s anything we can do to support you in your return to work.
Employee: I appreciate that. I’m just really struggling with my health right now, and I don’t think I’m able to come back.
Manager: I’m sorry to hear that. Can you tell me more about what’s going on?
Employee: I have a chronic condition, and I’m still experiencing a lot of pain and fatigue. I don’t think I can handle the physical demands of my job right now.
Manager: I understand. Would you be open to exploring any accommodations that may help you return to work? We can work together with HR to determine what accommodations may be available.
Employee: I didn’t know that was an option. Yes, I would be willing to explore that.
Manager: Great. We’ll work with HR to determine what accommodations may be available to you. In the meantime, I want to remind you that the company policy does state that employees who exhaust their FMLA eligibility and are unable to return to work may be terminated. However, we want to work with you to find a solution that works for both you and the company.
Employee: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Manager: Of course. We want to support you in any way we can. Please let us know if there’s anything else we can do to help you in your return to work.
So, how did ChatGPT do? Pretty good, actually. I was specifically testing its knowledge of the common misconception that exhaustion of FMLA leave means that an employee who cannot return to work can automatically be terminated. As any good employment lawyer or HR professional knows, exhaustion of FMLA leave is only the beginning of the conversation. If the underlying medical issue for which the employee took leave is affecting the employee’s ability to perform her essential job functions, you may need to enter an interactive dialogue with the employee to determine if she has a disability that can be accommodated. What this answer lacks is a recognition that the extension of additional leave can actually be a reasonable accommodation for a disability in some cases.
I’d rate this 8/10.
My prompt: “Write an employee counseling script for a manager who is counseling an employee about repeated instances of falling asleep on the job. The employee recently had surgery and has disclosed that she has been prescribed a medication that causes drowsiness.”
Chat GPT’s response:
HR Manager: Hi [Employee’s name], I wanted to talk to you today about something that’s been on my mind. Over the past few days, we’ve noticed that you’ve been falling asleep on the job. Can you tell me what’s going on?
Employee: Yes, I’m sorry about that. I had surgery recently and my doctor prescribed me a medication that causes drowsiness.
HR Manager: Thank you for letting me know. Can you tell me more about the medication and when you take it?
Employee: Sure, it’s a pain medication that I take three times a day. I take it once in the morning, once at lunch, and once in the evening.
HR Manager: Okay, I understand. It’s important that you take care of yourself and follow your doctor’s orders, but we also need to make sure that you’re able to perform your job duties safely and effectively. Falling asleep on the job can be a safety concern for you and your colleagues.
Employee: I understand and I’m really sorry. Is there anything I can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
HR Manager: Well, we could look into accommodations that could help you manage the drowsiness while you’re at work. For example, you could take breaks to rest or stretch, or perhaps we could adjust your work schedule so that you’re not working during your medication’s peak drowsiness periods.
Employee: That sounds like it could help. I really appreciate your understanding.
HR Manager: Of course, we want to support you through your recovery while also ensuring the safety of everyone at work. Do you have any questions or concerns about this?
Employee: No, I don’t think so. Thank you for talking to me about this.
HR Manager: You’re welcome. Please keep me updated on how you’re doing and if we need to make any further adjustments.
My assessment? 7/10.
In a perfect scenario, I would have wanted the manager to make clear that although she is willing to work with the employee on possible accommodations, staying awake at work is an essential function of the job and that if the issues continued even after modifications were put in place, the employer may no longer be able to accommodate the employee because relaxing the requirement of alertness on the job places an undue burden on the employer in light of performance and employee safety concerns. Finally, I think that the next step in the conversation is not “keep me posted”, but rather planning to meet again to specifically discuss what accommodations the employee is seeking and what the employer can commit to offering.
All in all, I was impressed with ChatGPT’s performance on these tests. As noted, the responses weren’t perfect, but they contained many of the key points I’d want an employer to convey. Mileage will likely vary with more complex issues, and ChatGPT often includes a helpful reminder that consulting an attorney is always a good idea. I’m excited to see how this tool can empower my employer clients to engage in productive conversations with employees that achieve the employer’s goals while still respecting an employee’s rights under the law.