As COVID-19 continues to spread the reverberations are being felt on global economies with markets falling and travel, supply chain and workforce issues affecting businesses and the wider community within the GCC. PRO Partner Group looks at practical questions and how companies can ensure they are prepared and informed.
Can an employer require an employee to work from home?
Yes an employer may require an employee to work from home but must continue to pay the employee’s salary.
Can an employer require an employee to take unpaid leave?
The UAE Labour Law is silent on unpaid leave arrangements. The general view is that an employer cannot unilaterally impose unpaid leave on an employee but they can request and seek the agreement of an employee to move to an unpaid leave arrangement.
What is the impact of unpaid leave on gratuity payments?
The UAE Labour Law expressly excludes unpaid leave in the calculation of period of service to which gratuity will apply. Employers should therefore consider extending gratuity benefits beyond the statutory position to potentially facilitate agreement with an employee on a change to employment arrangements.
Can an employer ask an employee to disclose personal information in relation to their health or their recent international travel?
Due to the overarching public health issues at this unprecedented time, the general position is that an employer may request employees disclose whether they have recently travelled to a high risk area, have been in contact with an infected individual or have suspected COVID-19.
Any information collected as a result of such a request may be considered personal data and as such, employers should ensure that they have appropriate measures in place to ensure the safety and security of such data. Personal information should, where possible, be anonymised.
What can an employer do if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19?
An employee that is diagnosed with COVID 19 or becomes unwell in the workplace with COVID19 symptoms, they should:
● notify the employer about their sickness
● go home
● avoid touching anything
● cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
● use a separate bathroom from others, if possible
The unwell person must follow the latest government advice to self-isolate at home. The employer has the right to put the employee under a medical examination in order to verify the illness, and the authenticity of the employee’s leave. The employer is entitled to request the employee to present a medical report, which justifies the employee’s absence and the calculation of the entitlement of the pay.
Note that given the requirements to self-isolate, obtaining a medical report may be a challenge. Employers might need to be flexible if they require evidence from the employee. An employee’s absence will be classified as sick leave. Under the UAE Labour Law, employees are entitled to a minimum of 90 days sick leave days to be paid on a payment scale outline in the UAE Labour Law.
What are an employer’s obligations to an employee that needs to self-isolate due to travel abroad or through contact with a person infected with the COVID19?
Employees are entitled to receive any sick pay due to them if they need to self-isolate because:
● they have coronavirus
● they have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough
● they’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor
Can an employee’s employment contract be terminated during sick leave?
An employer may not dismiss an employee or give him a termination notice while the employee is on sick leave. If the employee uses all of their 90 days’ sick leave and is not able to report to work afterwards, the employer may consider terminating the employment contract. In such a case, the employee will be entitled to the end of service gratuity in accordance with the provisions of the labour law.
What can employers do to protect the health and safety of employees during the pandemic?
It’s good practice for employers to:
• keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
• make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
• consider extra precautions for staff who might be more vulnerable, for example if someone is pregnant, aged 70 or over, or has a long-term health condition
• make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace shows symptoms of the virus
• make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
• provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them
• consider if any travel or meetings are necessary and if meetings can be held remotely instead
• keep up to date with the latest government coronavirus advice
What can an employer do if they have an employee that can’t do its job from home but does not want to come to work?
General recommendation is for an employer to identify what the specific concern of the employee is that is making them not want to come to work. The employer could consider making accommodations in the workplace to ensure the employee feels safe and protected.
If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as annual leave or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action or provide grounds for termination.
Does an employer need to pay its employees if it is forced to close the workplace?
General advice is that there is no obligation on the part of the employer to pay its employees in the event of closure. An employee may take annual leave or agree to unpaid leave or working from home arrangements with their employer.