Harassment in the meta workspace

Life in the metaverse presents most, if not all of the same opportunities and problems as any other place where people come to gather - whether for fun, entertainment, or indeed work.

For employers it presents myriad opportunities, but like any working environment, there should be a set of rules in place to ensure it is productive, safe and free from discrimination. Employees are, of course, still bound by the terms of their contract of employment. But as with the real world workplace, some rules, policies and expectations should be carefully considered, recorded and communicated afresh, to protect employees and the employer. These may be through legislation, regulation or internal guidance.

Pausing on worst case scenarios means placing ourselves and our experiences into a virtual world. Far from being a computer game, the metaverse is a real time workspace where employees and perhaps customers and visitors engage and interact. Between users, conversations may be on occasion hostile, offensive or even abusive. The metaverse may even, albeit indirectly, encourage greater abusive behaviour with the sense of detachment it may provoke. But each avatar is attached to a real person, is directly controlled by a real person and that person is and should be accountable for its actions.

Sexual harassment through online communication has been addressed by government legislation, but employers should take care to ensure employees are aware of their duties and responsibilities to others when acting online. This may be through policies, guidance and training. It is also incumbent on employers to take action when inappropriate behaviour is reported and by treating this seriously as it would for any in person incident. Regular communication reminding employees of what is, and is not, acceptable will all go some way to create a safe environment.

Controlling the metaverse to restrict or withdraw any opportunity for anonymity and offensive behaviour is in the gift of the employer. For example, obliging employees to use their own likeness or identifying them by their real names may be one option. Strict prohibition of offensive and hateful language is an obvious start. Providing easy access to report incidents of inappropriate behaviour, on or offline, is also key to maintaining a safe space.

Users have the ability to create a limited time 'bubble', creating a distance between themselves and other users to provide a personal space, or to sublet unplug themselves from the virtual world. Employers should make employees aware of the opportunities available to them to protect themselves should the need arise, including, perhaps the ability to mute and block as with other online platforms. This may cause other issues, particularly if blocking colleagues prevents them from being able to undertake their usual duties in work.

Reviewing and extending workplace policies to cover digital and virtual interactions is a sensible place to start. Considering whether the metaverse is suitable for your business is another.

Until appropriate safety measures are introduced by Meta, as the host platform for these virtual workplaces, it is the responsibility of employers to take action and to protect their employees.

If you have any queries on the topics discussed please contact Kevin Poulter, Partner in our Employment team.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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