This article explores the meaning of workplace discrimination where reality meets the imaginary world in virtual work settings. Using a more recent development in the realm of virtual work--workplace avatars--the article considers the impact on law of virtual performance identity by workers where appearances can be altered in virtual reality.
Current protected-class approaches to antidiscrimination law have not served as the antidote to workplace bias and exclusion. Thus, the article investigates whether avatar technology holds promise for facilitating greater inclusion of marginalized workers in the contemporary workplace. Does this mode of virtual work serve as a platform for diversity or simply create more confusion regarding our fundamental understandings of discrimination?
The author's premise is that the mechanics of online identity and the social and behavioral dynamics of virtual engagement produce a new locus for bias to flourish. While the virtual workplace holds some appeal for promoting broader acceptance within organizations, the article claims that avatar-based virtual work environments do not constitute unconditional and neutral spaces. Overall, the article takes an optimistic stance toward immersive environments in the employment context. However, it cautions that avatars create interpersonal dynamics that are just as dangerous to notions of belonging in the contemporary workplace as their physical counterparts. The author posits that the multidimensionality of identity in this context illuminates the limitations of the categorical approach to antidiscrimination law and concludes that the avatar makes the case for intersectionality theory in workplace law.
Natasha T. Martin, Diversity and the Virtual Workplace: Performance Identity and Shifting Boundaries of Workplace Engagement, 16 LEWIS & CLARK L. REV. 605 (2012).