By Karen Holden

Navigating the metaverse | Potential challenges for employers and employees in the UK

With the rapid advancement of technology, the concept of the metaverse is no longer confined to the realm of science fiction it is here.

As virtual reality, augmented reality, and other immersive technologies converge, the metaverse is becoming increasingly tangible. While this presents exciting opportunities for businesses and individuals alike, it also raises a host of potential challenges, particularly for employers and employees in the UK. It is still such a new concept for many of us, traditional businesses and employers have concerns about understanding this and its implications regarding its duties and employment law and regulations

How can this affect employee and what should employers know or consider:

Remote work revolution: The metaverse has the potential to revolutionise the way we work, allowing employees to collaborate and interact in virtual environments regardless of physical location. It’s a interactive, real life and time-communication offering that can truly enhance and train people across the world.

While this opens up opportunities for remote work, it also requires employers to adapt their management styles and policies to effectively manage virtual teams. So robust policies and processes need to be in place: the do’s and don’t’s, how GDPR play into this; how an employer governs the interaction etc

Digital divide: Access to the metaverse may not be equitable for all employees, particularly those from marginalised communities, particular disabilities or those with limited access to technology. This could exacerbate existing inequalities in the workforce, posing challenges for employers striving for diversity and inclusion.

Assessments and audits need to be made before and during use to be sure it is not exposing itself to any form of discrimination issues and that it can afford and has the capability to offer this fairly and equally

Security concerns: As more business activities shift to virtual platforms, concerns around cybersecurity and data privacy become increasingly pertinent. Employers must invest in robust security measures to protect sensitive information and ensure compliance with data protection regulations.

It also needs to train and engage staff to follow the processes; report any breaches and even know what to look out for. Access should be restricted to avoid over-sharing confidential information or allowing access to irrelevant parties and keeping its technology updated.

Work-life balance: The immersive nature of the metaverse blurs the boundaries between work and leisure, potentially leading to burnout and decreased productivity. Employers need to establish clear guidelines and boundaries to support employees in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

How do you carefully monitor its use and be sure that fair use for the employer and employee is being maintained – training, switch-off options, policies and reviews are possible options.

Skills gap: The adoption of metaverse technologies may require employees to acquire new skills and competencies. Employers must invest in training and development programs to upskill their workforce and ensure they remain competitive in an increasingly digital landscape.

This takes time and money and not all staff are going to be up to the challenge so careful consideration will need to be given to who/when and how. If staff cannot handle this upskilling redundancies or performance reviews will need to be very carefully structured to avoid claims and disharmony

Regulatory challenges: The evolving nature of the metaverse presents regulatory challenges for employers, particularly in areas such as intellectual property rights, virtual currencies, and virtual asset ownership. Navigating these legal complexities requires careful consideration and compliance to avoid potential legal pitfalls.

As a business, you need to understand how to protect yourself and your IP and assets, but regularising employee use and interaction to preserve the position will be essential too. Do they understand the risks and consequences of certain actions, will they need training, reviews or strict processes and policies? How do they voice questions and concerns to avoid issues of this nature

Social Isolation: While virtual interactions offer a level of connectivity, they may also contribute to social isolation and feelings of disconnection among employees.

We saw in the UK that mental wellness levels increase through homeworking and this could further exasperate the position. Careful consideration and staff engagement will be vital to make sure this doesn’t end human interaction and employee wellness support. This could be tough in calls or days; policies or training and much more staff engagement.

Employers should prioritise fostering a sense of community and belonging, both in virtual and physical spaces.

Harassment and bullying in a virtual space could take place and without the employer’s knowledge, which sadly is still an employer’s responsibility. How do they monitor what is happening, is this a system for this to be flagged and recorded; is there a point of contact maybe for staff to liaise with and an open door culture to discuss concerns before this leads to potential issues? Are the policies, training, review and management of the interaction clear and accessible?

In conclusion, the development of the metaverse holds immense promise for transforming the way we work and interact. However, it also presents significant challenges for employers and employees. By considering all the many issues, proactively addressing these challenges and embracing the opportunities presented by the metaverse, businesses can position themselves for success in the digital age.

Would this affect working mums differently?

The emergence of the metaverse could have a profound impact on working mothers. On one hand, virtual workspaces offer greater flexibility and autonomy, potentially allowing working mothers to better balance their professional and personal responsibilities. Remote work in the metaverse could eliminate the need for lengthy commutes and rigid office hours, giving mothers more time to spend with their families.

However, there are also challenges to consider, many have been identified above, but specifically the blurring of boundaries between work and home in the metaverse may intensify the pressure on working mothers to constantly juggle their roles with young children, leading to increased stress and burnout. Moreover, issues such as access to technology and digital skills training may disproportionately affect working mothers if they have had time of on maternity or to raise children as things do move at a very fast pace. Employers must therefore be mindful of these challenges and implement policies that support the unique needs of working mothers in the metaverse era if they wish to encourage and retain their talent.

What legal or employment rights will be required in the metaverse now or in the future in the UK

As the metaverse continues to evolve, there will likely be a need for new legal frameworks and employment rights to address the unique challenges and opportunities it presents in the UK. Some of these rights may include:

  1. Virtual property rights: With the emergence of virtual economies and digital assets in the metaverse, there will be a need for clear legal frameworks to govern ownership rights, intellectual property, and virtual transactions. This could involve regulations similar to those governing physical property and intellectual property rights. As such employment contracts and policies may need to address when a person creates it for themselves and for their employers
  2. Data Protection and privacy: Given the vast amounts of personal data generated and exchanged within the metaverse, robust data protection laws will be essential to safeguard individuals’ privacy rights. Employers and platform providers will need to ensure compliance with existing data protection regulations such as the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and implement additional measures to address the unique challenges of virtual environments.
  3. Employment contracts and dispute resolution: As virtual work becomes more commonplace, employment contracts may need to be updated to include provisions specific to virtual work arrangements, such as expectations for virtual attendance, performance metrics, and dispute resolution mechanisms for virtual teams. Additionally, mechanisms for resolving disputes that arise in virtual environments may need to be established.
  4. Accessibility and inclusion: Ensuring accessibility and inclusion in the metaverse will be crucial to prevent discrimination and promote equal opportunities for all individuals, including those with disabilities. Legal frameworks may need to be developed to mandate accessibility standards for virtual environments and ensure that platforms and content are accessible to all users.
  5. Health and safety regulations: Employers will need to consider health and safety regulations in the context of virtual work environments to protect the physical and mental well-being of employees. This may involve guidelines for mitigating risks associated with prolonged use of virtual reality devices, addressing ergonomic concerns in virtual workspaces, and promoting mental health support services for virtual workers.

Overall, navigating the legal and employment rights landscape in the metaverse will require collaboration between policymakers, employers, employees, and technology providers to ensure that the rights and interests of all stakeholders are adequately protected in this emerging digital frontier.

About the author

Karen Holden is the founder of A City Law Firm an innovative firm working in emerging tech, but which offers personal service. She was admitted to the role in 2005 having obtained her degree in law and her Masters from the University of Cambridge and her LPC from the College of Law. She is an entrepreneur having developed a thriving corporate firm from scratch; establishing the female founder’s growth programme to help founders get investment ready and was the winner of the WeAreTheCity Champion award.

Karen was given freedom of the City for her work in equality and speaks at many venues including the House of Lords and tech hubs and universities on starting, scaling and selling your business.