Digital Business31.07.2023 Newsletter

Health protection in the metaverse - obligations of the employer

In the metaverse, the real world is linked with the virtual world. Professional activities can also benefit from the metaverse: employees meet each other in virtual rooms using avatars and work together from different locations, they complete training courses, practise manual operations and contact customers to sell their company's own products.

However, working with the metaverse does not only offer numerous possibilities, it can also have an impact on employees’ physical and mental health, which has to be borne in mind. Also under the aspect of occupational health and safety, the metaverse is not a legal vacuum.

Health risks of working in the metaverse

So-called VR glasses are often used in the metaverse. They simulate a three-dimensional space be means of two displays, one for each eye. The two images differ minimally and are put together by the brain to create the impression of spatial depth.

VR glasses thus trick the eye and brain into creating a three-dimensional perception. On the VR glasses, things that appear far away actually play out just a few millimetres in front of the eyes’ natural lens. This can lead to an unnatural eye position and, after working in the virtual world for a lengthier period of time, can lead to initially blurred or double vision. This can, for example, reduce the ability to drive. It can also cause nausea, visual disturbances and irritation. Hygienic aspects should also not be disregarded if the transmission of diseases such as conjunctivitis or cold viruses via the mucous membranes in the eye are to be avoided. Wearing VR glasses - the lightest model currently weighs as much as 450 grams - can also lead to neck pain or tension.

Furthermore, there may be risks to employees’ mental health. Due to the immersive experience of the metaverse, harassment and discrimination in the digital space can have a similarly hurtful effect as in real life. The (technical) possibility of recording health data such as breathing and heart rate, movements and facial expressions down to the smallest detail and making them visible to the employer can cause anxiety and other mental stress. One cannot disregard the risk of a loss of reality or an adjustment disorder, especially if employees have regular assignments in the metaverse.

Although the long-term effects of working in virtual spaces on employees’ physical and mental health have not yet been researched in detail, health risks for employees can already be identified.

Obligation to comply with occupational health and safety also when working in virtual space

There are numerous legal bases whose purpose is to protect the occupational health and safety of employees. Many are specifically tailored to certain work areas and activities, such as the German Workplace Ordinance [Arbeitsstättenverordnung, ArbStättV] with regard to VDU workstations. Such regulations do not yet exist for work in the metaverse and for the wearing of VR glasses. Therefore, recourse can only be taken to the general regulations that employers must observe to protect their employees’ health.

The general duty of care (Sec. 618 of the German Civil Code [Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB]) obliges the employer, among other things, to avoid hazards to life and health arising from company equipment, technical work equipment, hazardous substances, workplaces and production and work processes, and to ensure that working conditions are designed in a humane manner.

Employers are also expressly obliged under Secs. 3, 4 of the German Occupational Health and Safety Act [Arbeitsschutzgesetz, ArbSchG] to protect the safety and physical and mental health of their employees by taking the necessary measures and to regularly review this protection with the help of sound occupational scientific findings. This includes the unlimited obligation to also conduct risk assessments for work in the metaverse (5 ArbSchG).

However, there are as yet hardly any occupational scientific findings on working in virtual space. To date, as far as can be seen, there is only one lengthier study by researchers from the University of Coburg in cooperation with the Universities of Cambridge and Primorska on the effects of work in the metaverse on physical and mental health. The results of the study show that working (exclusively) in the metaverse can have a significant impact on health and, in addition to physical complaints, can also affect the mental health and well-being of employees.


If professional activity in the metaverse is not just used experimentally in the future, but becomes a reality for many employees, we can expect the legislator to take action. For example, it is conceivable that the German Workplace Ordinance will in future provide for special requirements for working in the metaverse. This could, for example, take the form of hourly restrictions with corresponding rest periods or could be implemented with certain specifications for the necessary technology. Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that the European legislator, who can at least act in a supportive capacity in legislation on occupational health and safety (Art. 153 (1) No. 1 TFEU), will make regulations to ensure a minimum standard throughout the Union.

At present, however, employers must continue to comply with the existing regulations on general occupational health and safety. Neither the Occupational Health and Safety Act nor the employer's general duty of care oppose employees working in the metaverse on an hourly basis and on an ad hoc basis; after all, the Occupational Health and Safety Act also recognises "residual hazards". However, these must be kept as minimal as possible (Sec. 4 No. 1 ArbSchG). Companies should make sure that both the hardware and software used are regularly updated in order to exclude negative effects on health as much as possible. Individual activities in the metaverse, such as meetings or the learning of certain work processes, ought not to be problematic from the point of view of occupational health and safety. However, if in individual cases special burdens already arise for individual employees as a result of working in the metaverse on an hourly basis, the employer must react to this within the framework of its obligations.

Shifting the work completely to the metaverse is likely to meet with doubts under occupational health and safety law in view of the long-term effects, which have not yet been scientifically clarified.

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