Insights

Emily Jaye

Published 18 January 2023
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The Metaverse and Employment Practices

The Metaverse has recently become the topic of many debates within the business sphere. A combination of technological advancements and demand driven by the Covid lockdown means that we are on the brink of a new era with the way we work.

For those who are not familiar with what the Metaverse is, it is a virtual reality, which allows individuals to partake in immersive experiences, such as attending business conferences, from the comfort of their own home. However, this is far more advanced than simply sitting on a Teams call and individuals are immersed within a virtual reality as an avatar.  

Although it is thought that many will adopt this as a new modern way of working, the Metaverse is still very much in its early stages of conception. It will also extend to far more than business use and can be used in all sorts of environments including international meetings and conferences, the arts, sport and social events.

As many will suspect, much like the real world, the Metaverse will bring with it a host of challenges and, therefore, workplace practices and policies will need to keep up with the demands of this changing world.

What issues are there likely to be when it comes to employment law?

It is difficult to predict the precise issues that will arise alongside the use of the Metaverse because there is still no definitive version of what it will look like. However, there are certain aspects that will almost certainly need to be scrutinized.

These include but are not limited to:

Discrimination, harassment and bullying 

It is believed that we will be able to create 3D avatars to represent ourselves within the Metaverse. What is not clear is how much they will resemble our true appearance. This could, therefore, bring with it a host of issues regarding employees who choose avatar characteristics that they do not possess in the real world.  Abusive or derogatory comments or jokes about an avatar’s characteristics are likely to fall under the protection from harassment or discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010. What is more, an employee may be protected, even if they don’t actually possess the avatar’s characteristic that was the subject of the comment, abuse or joke.

Whilst many employers are already aware of the need to safeguard against online bullying or harassment, the Metaverse is also likely to open up new ways for someone to harass or bully another person in a digital world. Employers will therefore need to give further thought to how to provide a safe and secure workplace. 

Avatars

Whilst talking of avatars, consideration will also need to be given as to whether and if so, to what extent, an employer can control or dictate the characteristics of an employee’s avatar. What is more, we might need to consider the avatar itself as an identity and whether an employer is responsible for the actions of the avatars of its employees.

Data protection

Data protection and security are likely to be ongoing issues. With the Metaverse relying on ever more sophisticated technology, employment systems and practices will have to be ever more thorough, well-maintained and robust.

Health, safety and wellbeing

There are likely to be physical and mental wellbeing issues to be considered. For example, wearing a headset or other Metaverse equipment for a long time could have a physical impact and we are yet to know what the effect of working in this augmented Virtual Reality could have on our mental health. 

Working time and pay

Employees will have to give more practical consideration to how working hours are managed and possibly how employees are paid. In the event that some employers embrace cryptocurrencies, how they also ensure compliance with tax, pension and National Insurance requirements remains to be seen.

Training and conduct 

All of the above will probably require employers to review their training. It is all too easy when you are in a digital world to behave in a way that you would not behave in an “in-person” situation. And what’s more, employers will need to consider how they will review and monitor conduct and performance in a Metaverse environment. And what about those who don’t want to work in the Metaverse, how will this be managed?

What do you need to do next?

As the Metaverse is still very much in its early stages, it is impossible to know all the questions that will need to be answered and issues that will arise. However, it would be wrong to think that either as employment lawyers or employers, we can disregard the potential implications that the Metaverse is likely to have. You may not be launching your business into the Metaverse tomorrow, but it is coming, and probably much faster than most of us anticipate.

At the very least, many employers will need a thorough reconsideration of their practices and policies, and what safeguards need to be put in place. With this in mind, we will be posting a series of articles, looking at the issues you are likely to encounter in a bit more detail. So, “watch this virtual space”, as they may say one day soon.

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