Working in the metaverse involves a range of issues and challenges related to employment law. Transferring individual tasks – or even entire jobs – to virtual working environments requires rethinking how employees interact with each other. Traditional working arrangements and remuneration structures must be scrutinised and adapted. Aspects such as occupational health and safety and employee data protection also need to be considered.

The issues are diverse and complex: How far does the employer’s right to give instructions extend in the metaverse? Can employers not only instruct employees to work in the metaverse, but also dictate what their avatar should look like? Do employees in a business environment have rights to their avatars, and could they, for example, require these to be transferred to them at the end of their employment? Similar matters relating to the use of Facebook or Instagram in the employer’s interest have also come up in the past.

Because virtual interactions feel less real and lower inhibitions, there is a greater risk of insults, discriminatory comments, and other misconduct between employees in the metaverse – and a greater risk of conflict. Employees need appropriate training on the rules of conduct for using this new technology. What standing an avatar has under anti-discrimination law is another aspect to be considered.

The protection of business and employee data will play an important role in the metaverse. Working in virtual spaces using VR/AR technology may also raise occupational health and safety concerns, potentially requiring time spent in the metaverse to be restricted; however, it enables a more accessible environment for severely disabled employees, for example. It is also possible to collect a wide range of data, such as facial expressions, gestures, physiological reactions to certain content, and the VR headset’s surroundings. Employers need to draw up standards to ensure that employee data is protected in the metaverse as well.

Like those for mobile work, corporate guidelines on working in the metaverse are key, and could – for example – lay down the number of virtual office days or hours.

Gleiss Lutz has extensive experience in advising clients on digital work and how to regulate employee conduct on social media – and regularly assists with employee data protection and codetermination issues in connection with IT-supported work processes and models.