How will employment play out in the Metaverse? Will employees be bound by the same rules? Will employers be subject to the same employment laws? How will harassment be dealt with? Is bullying in the Metaverse going to be an issue for employers to deal with?
These are all questions that are becoming increasingly relevant with the introduction of the Metaverse.
Many of us that use the Internet have heard of the Metaverse – but what exactly is it, and how is it relevant to employers?
What is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse is a virtual world that will encompass the entire social and economic structure of the actual world. People will be able to communicate with each other on it, using their avatars. The best way to understand what ‘avatar’ means is by thinking of a social media profile picture. Each user will create an avatar that represents them – most likely in respect of their physical characteristics – and use it to interact with anything that exists in the Metaverse.
By wearing virtual reality glasses, users can enter a whole new world and do almost anything that can be done in the real world. People can meet with their friends and visit cafes, buy things and attend events for example.
Working in the Metaverse
Virtual versions of the world we live in today will exist in the Metaverse; the Metaverse will create a virtual job market and there has been talk of buying and selling property on the Metaverse, using the help of a virtual estate agent. Although it is too early to tell which areas of law will be applicable in the Metaverse, with the creation of a virtual job market, employment law may become relevant there.
After the pandemic, a hybrid working model has become the norm for many people, as the pandemic helped open our eyes to and collectively trial remote working to a greater extent than ever before. However, there are still challenges associated with remote working; some find it difficult to connect and collaborate with colleagues in the same way as when working together in-person for example. Avatars in the Metaverse can display their own body language and facial expressions. Workers using the Metaverse can also view information in 3D, instead of sharing it through video calls. Working in the Metaverse will therefore alleviate some of the challenges of working remotely as we know it now.
The Metaverse can be used to hold meetings with clients, train employees, and simply carry out work in a Metaverse office. It is anticipated that many businesses will want to exist on the Metaverse and use the space for work purposes.
Future employment law issues to consider
Establishing a workplace within the Metaverse will likely come with a number of challenges including legal implications. What types of employment law issues could crop up in the virtual workplace?
Staff appearance and dress code
Given that humans will be responsible for designing the virtual versions of ourselves – Avatars - to what extent will employers be able to control employees’ avatar creations? Will there be a requirement that their avatars reflect their true physical appearance? Employers will need to consider the discrimination implications which could arise were employees to give their avatars characteristics which they do not hold in real life.
Will employees have to adhere to a certain dress code in the virtual world as they often do in the real world? Employers will want to ensure that their employees’ avatars do not wear offensive slogans when representing their organisation in the Metaverse for example.
Data protection and privacy
Businesses hold confidential data, and working in a virtual world may result in further data protection and privacy concerns in terms of who can access the information. Just as the Internet is prone to hackers, the Metaverse will no doubt be too, and employers will need to find new ways to keep their data secure.
Professionalism and conduct
People can be braver online, when they are ‘hiding’ behind a screen and an avatar, so employers might have to deal with new, emboldened personas of employees. On occasion, this may lead to unfortunate characteristics coming to the fore.
There have already been sexual harassment incidents on the Metaverse. The Equality Act 2010 has a wide definition of sexual harassment and physical touch is not required in order to meet the definition. Similar to working in real life, it is highly likely that employers will be liable for harassment in the Metaverse workplace if they do not take all reasonable steps to prevent it.
Employers will therefore need to consider how they would prevent and manage such incidents in the Metaverse, which may include a certain level of online monitoring and surveillance.
As the Metaverse will facilitate a virtual presence in the workplace, it may be easier to monitor employees' avatars than it currently is to monitor homeworking individuals.
Similar issues around monitoring, privacy and trust will likely arise in the Metaverse as they do in the real world. Will employers be able to monitor their employees to make sure they are doing their work? Can employees actions on the Metaverse “outside of work” be limited? These are questions that will be increasingly relevant as people start working in the Metaverse, and the law in this area will need to develop accordingly.
Health and safety
Going from being office-based to fully home-based has not been easy on everyone. Some employees feel lonely and become anxious when they eventually have face-to-face interactions. Working in the Metaverse may have the same result.
Apart from social isolation, another potentially detrimental impact of working in the Metaverse may be that feeling of being constantly monitored. This may affect employees’ wellbeing. Employers will continue to be responsible for the health and safety of their workers whilst they are working remotely via the Metaverse. Without real life face-to-face contact, it is harder to recognise symptoms of stress or mental health problems so employers may need to build in additional opportunities to ensure their workers are safe and well.
Many people struggle to use modern technology. Training employees will be something employers have to consider. There may also be new roles created for companies operating entirely in the Metaverse, such as more complex IT teams.