Can employers require that employees take their annual leave?
In the UAE, employees could be required to take paid annual leave (this is permitted under the Labour Law) provided, of course, that they have sufficient leave balance available. It could also be agreed with the employee that the employee can work from home or take a period of unpaid leave during this period. Such an arrangement should be documented in writing and signed by the employer and the employee.
Can employers prohibit employees from going to specific countries on their personal leave?
What your employees do outside of working hours is largely out of your control. You can encourage employees to consider whether, from their own health perspective, travel to those areas is the best thing to do and that, if they do decide to travel, they should take all necessary health precautions. You could also require employees to notify you of their travel plans so that appropriate precautionary measures can be taken. Employers should also discuss the likelihood of post-visit isolation and the impact of that on the individual and the wider working team.
I travelled for work and I am now stuck because of travel restrictions, which makes going to the office impossible. Should I be paid?
If an employee in these circumstances can work remotely then this period would be paid. Given that the employee travelled for work, the employer would be encouraged to be generous and flexible.
What if people might be ill but still go into work as they are worried about not being paid?
We know this is already the case for many people with a normal cold, but the Coronavirus is different, and businesses and employees must take it seriously. That means employees need to put their health and that of the rest of the workforce ahead of their individual pay-check, but businesses also need to play their part.
If someone is sick, or has potentially been exposed in some way, they should consider awarding the time as paid sick leave (whether statutory or enhanced) to ensure that person has time to recover and the rest of the workforce are protected. Employers have a care of duty to the whole workforce and should be generous to encourage people to stay home– best to pay one individual to take time off then having to cope with the whole workforce being affected.
Employees should (where possible) be given comfort that declaring that they suspect they have or may have come into contact with someone who has, the Coronavirus will not have any adverse impact on their work or pay.
Should an employee be suspected or confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, do employers have a responsibility to report this information?
There is an obligation on the employer to send any individual who appears to have COVID-19 for a medical examination and then report that condition to the authorities. The individual should also be barred from re-entering the work premises.
In this context, the penalty on the employer applies to the "immediate supervisor at the place of work.' Failure to report carries a penalty of AED 10,000 and potentially imprisonment (the length of the custodial sentence is not stated).
Employers should also consider what actions they will take in the event an employee tests positive. Prompt action will be critical and, with this in mind, we strongly encourage all employers to consider an emergency response procedure so that management have a clear action plan.
Critical aspects of the emergency response procedure will include promptly ascertaining who the employee may have come into contact with and, potentially, requiring such employees to remain away from the workplace (on leave or working from home) until it is confirmed that they have not contracted the virus.
Prompt communications, internally and potentially externally, may also be required and must be sensitively drafted with due regard to the balance between ensuring individuals are notified if they may have been exposed to the virus, while at the same time protecting the privacy and data of the employee involved and with due regard to local data protection legislation and/or laws protecting an individual's privacy. The identity of the employee should in so far as possible not be disclosed.