We are now more worried about losing our jobs than ever before due to COVID-19.
As the global effects of the pandemic unfold and in many countries continue to rise, governments across the world have been taking maximum precautions and advising their citizens of all precautionary measures.
Here in the UAE, with the strictest regulations to protect its residents – employers, employees, visitors, and resident visa holders, the financial impact on businesses has forced many companies to maximize steps to ensure business continuity.
While many employers have been forced to restructure or downsize, resulting in job losses, others have reduced salaries, bonuses, and benefits. The UAE employment law has always been strict in ensuring employee protection due to its vast ex-pat population. While it is important that you read and listen to the latest government updates on your legal rights, below are some important legalities that you need to know.
Can my employer force me to undergo medical screening and tests for COVID-19?
Employers are taking maximum precautions to ensure your safety and prevent risks to your colleagues. Before implementing medical screening tests for you, your consent should be obtained and what steps would be taken, if any symptoms arise. Being transparent and having a clear policy regarding the same becomes important for you to know. In a situation that you refuse to undergo medical screening, what actions your employer could take, also needs to be communicated and updated in the employee handbook or company policy manuals, or official company communication.
Can my employer make me self-isolate and work from home?
If you are showing the symptoms of COVID-19, then it is highly recommended that you be on sick leave and therefore not working. If you show signs of mild or no significant symptoms, then there could be a consideration for you to work from home in self-isolation.
If you are a work-from-home employee, then your employer must be able to consider the necessary infrastructure is provided to you to help you execute your responsibilities.
Remote IT access and IT and personal data security,
Call divert or call answering and call enabling facility,
Access or procedure to access the printer (if required),
Home-based office setup including stationery and supplies, etc are some examples.
Your transport allowance may be adjusted for a home to office and office to home commute.
Can my employer prevent me (if I have refused to self-isolate), from accessing the company's premises or coming into contact with my colleagues or clients?
You and your employer will require to review your employment contracts. Any adjustment to the contract must be incorporated in official correspondence by your employer. Your employer is obligated to ensure your safety and that of all its employees to ensure the illness does not spread.
Suspension from work may be an option when you, who have been advised to self-isolate, refuse to do so. Disciplinary action may be warranted if your employer's right to take action is legally confirmed. If the suspension does occur without any disciplinary measures in places such as warning letter or final warning etc, this suspension would be on full pay but again it could damage your trust and career with your employer. Your employer would have sought legal advice prior to such a measure.
Can I be put on annual leave, paid sick leave, or any other type of leave?
This will depend on your contractual obligation with your employer, and also other factors such as your health and financial state. As per the updated UAE employment Law, your employer can ask you to take
A voluntary period of paid annual leave;
Enforce a period of mandatory annual leave;
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, then allow you to take sick leave.
(This is 15 calendar days with full pay, 30 calendar days with half pay and 45 calendar days without pay under the UAE Labour Law and 60 working days under the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Employment Law)
Enable you to work remotely wherever possible;
If you voluntarily self-isolate and remain away from the workplace without discussing this with your employer, there may be more scope for considering such leave to be unpaid.
Legal Advice is the best course that your employer will seek before they have made changes to your monthly salary or annual leave entitlements. If you have sufficient proof that's your right as an employee has been infringed, then obtaining legal advice is best recommended.
Are there any privacy or data protection issues for my employer to consider?
All your medical records are dealt with strictly confidentially and only shared with relevant personnel on a 'need to know basis. It is good to know how your employer treats data confidentiality especially medical details and family information. Your employer must obtain written consent should any formation need to be disclosed outside the authorized personnel.
DIFC laws have their data protection legislation in place. If your employer is a DIFC registered company, then it has to have the appropriate permission from you before any personal data is transferred outside of the DIFC or to a group company.
Can my employer prevent me from traveling outside of the UAE?
Official guidelines and travel restrictions are available with all travel agencies and government press releases. Most employers are asking their employees to avoid unnecessary international travel. However, only if the UAE government issues a specific travel ban to particular countries, your employer will enforce it else they will only ask, request or advise such travel precautions as a company matter and this would not be legally binding. Is best to follow company recommendations unless absolute life and death emergency and you do not have another option.
How should my employer handle workplace bullying related to the pandemic?
There are reports of a rise in racial workplace bullying with regards to employees from countries experiencing a high number of coronavirus cases. This has predominantly been experienced by Chinese employees.
The UAE is very strict about protecting employee rights to ensure no racial discrimination. If you are being harassed at your workplace because of this, it is best to approach your human resource department or company management. Legal options should be your last choice when all other hope fails.
Mr. Luke Tapp, Partner at Pinsent Masons Law Firm in Dubai has published an article regarding Employer-Employee Rights during COVID-19.