There has been a lot of movement on the employment front over the past 2 weeks, as a result of the effects of the Covid-19 on both business performance and staff working conditions – from employees being asked to take unpaid leave to a change in contract/reduction in salary.

Here is a little snapshot of what we have seen, as HR Consultants, across companies here in the UAE. We have to remember of course that these are unprecedented times, and everyone is learning as they go along. The overriding criteria I suppose is one of empathy and compassion – employers that have shown this, have obviously gained staff loyalty.

From an employers point of view, revenues have been hit, they don’t quite know, when revenues will pick up again – and they are as concerned about paying ‘their bills, which include salaries’, as much as employees are about paying their utilities/rent/necessities.

So, going back to impact on employees:

Unpaid leave

This needs to be agreed between the employer and the employee. An employer cannot force an employee to go on unpaid leave. An employer can, however, ask them to take paid leave, that has been accrued to date. An employer and employee can agree to unpaid leave – which will be documented.

Now, putting a pragmatic hat on, if an employee refuses to agree to take unpaid leave – the employer can of course make staff redundant (yes, you will get paid the statutory notice period etc.) – but it is a risk; will you be able to find another role quickly?

I spoke to the Ministry of Labour again yesterday, and they too confirmed that any changes in the contract needs to be mutually agreed by the employee and employer.

There are exceptions including if an employee cannot get back into the country due to travel restrictions, and they can’t work remotely, then an employer can ask them to take unpaid leave, once paid leave is finished.

Reduction in Salary

Again, this cannot be forced upon. It needs to be mutually agreed and documented. What I would say here is that if this is you, and you are being asked to sign a new contract with a lower salary, it might be worth putting in a clause, about when this agreement finishes and the original salary starts again.

Working from home

As long as an employee can efficiently do their job – they should be allowed to work from home, ‘should’. Companies have already implemented a ‘remote working’ policy. Obligations – an employer does need to provide the employee with the equipment (laptop etc) to be able to complete their job.

In terms of can we as HR Consultants force a Company to let staff work from home? No. But we can ensure that there is a risk assessment and the environment is ‘safe. As employers, there are a greater duty of care and good faith owed to employees; and again, this all comes down to empathy and compassion. I go back to ‘unprecedented times.’

It is worth remembering that COVID -19 is unlikely to be classified as an occupational disease under the UAE labour law.

Sick leave

Sick leave provision at the moment remains unchanged (90 calendar days where 15 days’ full pay; 30 days half pay; 45 days unpaid), so if an employee was to be infected with COVID-19, and couldn’t perform their duties, then their sick days would come out of their total sick leave provision.

I keep going back to empathy, as I firmly believe that this is what will get us all through this – employers and employees. The old saying ‘Do to others as you want others to do to you. We’re all in this together and COVID-19 has no exceptions or favourites. Everyone is impacted in some way, shape or form.

I have written this through our HR lens; we are not legal experts. If you are unsure of your position, I am as always more than happy to have a chat (rohini.bhalla@ggc-consult.com) – we don’t want anything in return, it is our way of helping the community as and when we can. xx

Written by British mum and Senior HR and Management Consultant at GGC Consulting, Dubai, Rohini Bhalla-Gill.

Read more:

Tips to avoid Coronavirus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) What we know so far

Parenting Tips to Help Cope During COVID-19

What new and expectant mums should know about COVID-19

COVID-19: Your questions answered – How companies can ensure they are prepared

COVID-19 and how it impacts your rights as an employee in the UAE

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