Coronavirus: Labour law FAQ for UAE employers

Get answers to the most commonly asked UAE Labour Law related questions and understand how to support your business through a global health emergency.

The coronavirus (or COVID-19) was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. With person-to-person transmission, reported cases have since continued to grow exponentially. As governments and public health authorities adjust their policies to respond to the challenge, companies need guidance on how best to address the situation with regards to their employees. 

What happens if someone is affected?  Sick pay or full pay?  If an employee contracts Coronavirus (now officially termed COVID-19 by the World Health Authority), this can be treated in the same way as any other sickness absence in terms of payment. For completeness, the UAE Labour Law provides that an employee is entitled to 90 calendar days of sick leave in any 12-month period. The first 15 days are payable at full pay, the next 30 at half pay and the remaining 45 days are unpaid. To encourage employees to notify the company where they have coronavirus symptoms, and not to return to work before they are no longer contagious, the employer could consider enhancing the sick leave provisions for confirmed coronavirus cases (for example, employees could retain full pay throughout their period of sickness rather than dropping to half or no pay). What happens around self-isolation when someone is not sick?  Sick pay or full pay?  The UAE Labour Law does not specifically address this situation. Any employer's policies and procedures should be reviewed for any relevant provisions (relating to emergency leave or unpaid leave, for example). If an employee is not sick, the default situation is that no sick pay is payable. There is no legal obligation to pay an employee for not attending work which is not covered under any current contractual provision so in that situation, there would be no entitlement to pay unless the contract provides otherwise.  From a practical perspective, employers will not of course want to risk employees attending the workplace in circumstances where there is a risk that they have come into contact with someone with the Coronavirus or visited a high-risk area, for example. Employers may therefore choose to class the absence as sickness and apply normal sick pay rules. This being said, we encourage employers to listen to employee's concerns and consider flexible working arrangements. This could, for example, include permitting the employee to work from home for a period of time (if their role allows), agreeing that the employee will take a period of paid annual leave or permitting the employee to take a period of unpaid leave. The relevant arrangement should be documented in writing and signed by the employer and the employee.   My employer has asked me to stay at home – will I be paid?  There is no legal right to unilaterally place an employee on unpaid leave and doing so could give rise to a breach of contract claim against the company. A period of unpaid leave could however be agreed with the employee (in which case, such agreement should be recorded in writing). If your employer is asking you to stay home, they have taken that decision and you should still be paid. Many office workers will be able to work from home though, so it becomes a usual working day.   Employers are legally entitled to require their employees to take a period of annual leave (which would need to be paid in the usual way).


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