What challenges can the Metaverse bring to the job?

Linda Hynes of Lewis Silkin Ireland explores some of the legal issues that could arise if the future of work is in the metaverse.

Metaverse is a virtual world using virtual reality (VR), where people can meet and interact with each other. For many employers, the first experience may come from using virtual reality tools to organize conferences and events.

Microsoft announced that it will add files Avatars and 3D virtual environments for Teams this year So he will soon arrive at a workplace near you. Ultimately, employees can spend more time doing their jobs in a virtual world, which could be another crucial change in the workplace, after other changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The metaverse offers many benefits, for example the ability to work remotely in a more connected way with colleagues, but it also raises a host of new issues and challenges related to Irish labor law.

Diversity, inclusion and avatar design

You need an avatar to participate in the metaverse. In the world of online gaming, choosing a character or avatar is primarily a matter of digital evasion.

When the metaverse hits workplaces, people are more likely to choose more realistic avatars — those that look like them — or, at least, how they see themselves. However, avatars can create issues of diversity and inclusion.

The number one problem for employers may be offensive jokes or comments about people’s choice of avatar, especially given the initial novelty of virtual reality in the workplace. This could fall under the category of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment under the Irish Equality Act.

There may also be controversies over avatars that intentionally make fun of others, such as an avatar that looks like a public figure but has certain specific traits.

Irish employment law would allow employers to punish employees for such inappropriate behaviour, although HR departments may need to develop and implement guidelines regarding avatars and ways of working in the metaverse, such as this has happened with the use of social media when it has become a daily part of a place the work.

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Irish Equality Act currently recognizes nine protected grounds on which no one should be discriminated against. These include gender, disability, ethnicity, and age. Some of these patterns may be visible in real life and some may not, but the metaverse may disrupt that.

Which protected lands will be visible and which won’t in the new virtual reality world? Oculus says it looks at the subtle differences and confirms How customizable will their avatars be?.

The call to choose an avatar that reflects your reality raises a series of diversity issues. Would some employees benefit from choosing avatars that express their true gender identity? Will others find ways to show characteristics that they cannot easily show in real life, such as autism?

Will others be frustrated at not being able to choose an avatar that represents their combination of protected characteristics? When is it okay for employees to “try on” protected features that they don’t have?

What about recruitment exercises that use virtual reality? Are these issues that employers will need to regulate and what would that mean, for example, for unconscious bias, a problem that already exists in the workplace?

Research shows that women are more susceptible to this Motion sickness when using virtual reality. How will this be handled by employers? If an employer requires virtual reality as part of the workday, does this discriminate against women? Could it widen the gender gap in the workplace if female employees don’t want to engage in virtual reality because it makes them sick?

Online harassment applies in the Metaverse

Irish employment equality legislation gives a broad definition of sexual harassment, which is any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature. Harassment related to any of the protected grounds is also prohibited, as is any form of unwanted behavior related to any of the discriminatory grounds.

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In both sexual harassment and stalking, behavior is defined as having the aim or effect of undermining a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.

This could include the workplace in the metaverse. Employers can be held indirectly responsible for acts of bullying, harassment and discrimination against employees perpetrated by employees on social media sites, so the same extends to the metaverse. Appropriate training and measures should be considered to reduce the risk of bullying and harassment in the Metaverse.

Metaverse misconduct

Many types of misconduct in the Metaverse will be covered by your current employer policies and Irish labor law, but the policies may need to be amended to make it clear that working in the Metaverse is still a workplace.

For example, colleagues who abuse each other in a virtual environment will be subject to normal disciplinary rules. Unfair dismissal will be enforced in the same way as now and behavior in a virtual workplace will be duly investigated and prosecuted, as it would for “real” work, although investigation in a virtual reality environment can present logistical challenges for employers.

Will new types of misconduct appear in the Metaverse? For example, if the metaverse were to include non-player characters (NPCs) such as the online gaming world, i.e. characters that are not controlled by an employee, then being rude with a virtual NPC would be considered an act of misconduct, or attacking an NPC would be an act of harassment ?

Can employees be disciplined for this behavior? Is this type of behavior inconsistent with the culture and values ​​of the organization?

Other metaverse issues

The metaverse raises a host of other workplace issues that may not be addressed by current labor laws.

Jurisdiction issues: People in the virtual world can be anywhere in the real world, so what business laws will apply?

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Confidential Information and Security Risks: In the “anyone can be anyone” world of the metaverse, will there be more hackers or corporate spying?

Health and Security: Can you wear VR glasses all day or will there be health and safety risks? Should employers consider the risks of cyberbullying in the metaverse in their risk assessments under health and safety legislation?

Feature in Metaverse: Do the anti-competition and intellectual property clauses need to be updated? Can metaverse providers access or use company information that is shared within their environment?

Job status and working time: With the emergence of new ways of working, which will be defined as working relationships? If I’m online as an avatar, should this working time be logged and monitored? Working time commitments are already at odds with the flexible remote work models that have emerged since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, so how will they deal with the metaverse?

Be ready for the avatar

While we won’t see labor relations claims made by Warlock999 naming Bigboss1 as a defendant for some time, it may in the future. Previously, employers, employment dispute resolution forums and jurisdictions had to catch up with employees’ use of social media platforms.

No doubt the law will also have to address a host of new issues that will come with working in the metaverse. A virtual reality workplace can offer some exciting opportunities, but employers will need to be aware of the pros and cons when their employee avatars come together in the future.

by Linda Haynes

Linda Hynes is a partner at Lewis Silkin Ireland in the Employment, Immigration and Compensation division.

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