COVID-19 has ushered in a new era of remote working and the increasing adoption of next-gen technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality. Metaverses are immersive digital worlds based on virtual reality gaming experiences. Metaverses promise to make immersive meetings more realistic, and thus more effective, for businesses, thanks to 3D virtual reality headsets. Statistics do support that remote work will be dominated by metaverse in the near future.
In November 2021, Lenovo conducted a survey of 7,500 working adults in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Singapore, China, and Japan, finding that nearly half (44%) of employees are willing to work in the metaverse which presents a new opportunity for businesses.
These figures don't say "yes" or "metaverse is the future," but they do show the direction in which the workplace will go. Along with remote work, Metaverse will continue to be a perk and a benefit, as well as a marketing tool to recruit clients and improve company branding.
Work in the metaverse - the legal issues
As operations and processes of the work have already been digitised and automated, what new metaverse would bring? Metaverse could serve as a tool for connecting and collaborating - allowing teammates to interact just like in the real world, create bonhomie and rapport, and eliminate miscommunication issues from written documents.
However, not all employees will be eager to see themselves in gamified versions or as avatars. Senior and more tenured employees will not be enchanted with this “cool” version of themselves and that is why companies may introduce holograms in these man-made universes.
Metaverse is an emerging technology that is diminishing the boundaries of reality and tech, and the adoption of this tech by companies, especially the ones that work remotely or are MNCs, could bring in a plethora of data privacy, intellectual property, and cybersecurity-related risks. Compliance with various laws in the metaverse will be the biggest challenge for HR professionals followed by workplace injuries and insurance which could be a result of wearing bulky VR headsets or spending too much time on computers meeting clients and colleagues in a virtual reality setting.
Disputes related to who owns the data and the intellectual property in the metaverse will be majorly contested. For the HR of a company that uses metaverse technology, keeping a tab on the processing and controlling personal data of employees will be a nightmare. The metaverse may expose new areas of data protection for processing where facial expressions, hand gestures, voice, statements, age, race, etc. could be exposed to hackers and other notorious individuals.
Even though a country like India does not have a Data Protection Act like GDPR or others into effect yet, the Indian IT Act, 2008 covers aspects of data privacy. Section 43 of this Act states, “Where a body corporate, possessing, dealing or handling any sensitive personal data or information in a computer resource which it owns, controls or operates, is negligent in implementing and maintaining reasonable security practices and procedures and thereby causes wrongful loss or wrongful gain to any person, such body corporate shall be liable to pay damages by way of compensation, to the person so affected.”
The section clearly states that if the personal data or information is exposed, due to negligence or otherwise, the company is liable to compensate the person so affected for damages. Determining whether the HR or the security team of a company was negligent or did not implement reasonable security measures will be one of the hotly contested and litigated, considering the fact the outcome could cost lakhs and crores of Rupees.
Another critical factor to remember will be the creation and use of Avatars in the metaverse that may be copyrighted. Currently, many users of this new tech use avatars that are freely available and many use them with no attention to check if the NFT Avatars are copyrighted or not. Using such avatars could lead to copyright violation claims.
The second potentially big arena for litigation would be workplace injuries. Most users have complained of headaches, watery eyes, back pain, and stress when using bulky VR headsets. In the absence of ergonomic VR headsets and workstations, employees may suffer workplace injuries and claim expensive insurance and/or litigation.
The HR needs to assess each employee individually if they are fit to work from home, use headsets and use the headsets for longer periods of time. The general consensus is to wear the VR headset for an hour and then take a 15-minute break before wearing it again. However, in long client calls, an employee may end up using the headset for more hours, leading to workplace injury which needs to be compensated by the employer.
Sexual harassment in the metaverse
Recently, a London-based woman claimed that she was gang-raped by a group of avatars for three hours on the virtual reality platform, Meta. She further added that even though it happened virtually, the psychological and physiological damage was so real as if it happened in real life.
The incident not only stirred up the company’s, formerly Facebook, shares but also provided a glimpse of what could be the crimes of the metaverse.
HR needs to be updated with the laws that govern these universes along with workplace safety laws to ensure that virtual workplaces are safe for all employees. Given that the laws of India are not equipped enough to take into account such crimes, it would be a major task for the HRs to understand the implications and consequences of actions and incidents that happen in the metaverse.
Digital transformation in HR is inevitable and so is the adoption of new technology, hence, careful planning, strategizing, placing security measures in place, intensive training of HR, and assessments of HR tech for compliance will help save employers from metaverse-related litigation.