If you were recently diagnosed with COVID-19 or came in close contact with a positive case then it’s important to know your legal rights in the workplace under the new labour law, which will come into effect on February 2, 2022.
Although the law does not govern work-from-home systems as more companies across UAE shift online amid the rise of cases, it gives the flexibility to both employers and employees to arrange internally.
What happens when employees test positive for Covid-19? Are their leaves considered as part of their sick leave balance?
Under the new Federal Decree Law No. (33) of 2021 on the regulation of labour relations (the “New Labour Law”), employees who have completed their probationary period are eligible for sick leaves and such sick leaves cannot exceed 90 days a year. Article 31(3) of the New Labour Law stipulates that during the 90-day period, the employee is entitled to a full pay for the first 15 days and half pay for the next 30 days. If the employee has used up 45 days of sick leaves during that year, then they are not entitled to any further compensation from the employer for the subsequent sick leaves taken during that year.
How many days of leave can Covid-19 patients avail?
It is mandated by the authorities for all citizens and residents of the Emirate of Dubai to isolate for at least 10 days in the event they contract Covid-19. Given that Covid-19 is an illness, an employee (who has completed his/her probationary period) should be entitled to claim these 10 days or more (depending on the severity of the symptoms) as part of his/her sick leave entitlement.
What happens when employees with no sick leave balance contract Covid-19?
If the employee uses his/her designated sick leaves during that year, the employer may deduct such additional days from other statutory leaves, such as annual leave for instance.
How about public sector employees? How many days of sick leave can they avail?
The recent unified work regulations, to take effect from February 2, provided that private sector and federal government employees are entitled to a 90-day sick leave for every year of service. With regards to public sector employees, there is no single legislative instrument to apply federally, as each Emirate has its own legislation in this regard.
What if an employee on probation catches Covid-19 and their contract allows no paid leaves during probation?
The New Labour Law is very clear in this regard. Article 31(2) provides that if the employee did not complete his probationary period, then he/she is not entitled to sick leaves. However, the employer may choose to grant such employee an unpaid sick leave. That said, this will purely depend on the relationship between the parties in question.
What is the right course of action to take when employees come into close contact with a positive Covid-19 case? Do they avail a sick leave?
The first important action to be taken is to inform the employer of the situation, get tested and work from home (if the nature of employment allows the employee to work remotely) until the test result is received, otherwise, take that day as a sick leave. Should the test result confirm that the employee in fact contracted Covid-19, then the employee may agree with the employer to work from home (if the nature of employment and employee’s health condition allows that) until the employee recovers or claim the isolation period as sick leave.
What if a former Covid-19 case comes into contact with someone infected? Are they still eligible for sick leaves?
Yes, the same rule will apply as if contracted for the first time.
Covid-19 patients, especially those asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, continue their work from home despite their diagnosis. How does the law apply in such cases?
The New Labour Law is silent in this regard, thereby providing flexibility to each Emirate and the employers in deciding the “work from home” system internally.
What are some provisions in the labour law, currently in effect, that govern working from home?
The “work from home” system was never a statutory right under the old labour law, nor it is a statutory right under the New Labour Law. The “work from home” system was introduced by a ministerial decision of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (“MOHRE”) during the public health crisis caused by COVID-19. Currently, the “work from home” policy is dictated between each employee and employer as they deem fit for the organization.
Will any of the current provisions apply differently for Covid-19 leaves after the new labour law comes into effect on Feb 2?
There are a couple of changes. For instance, under the old law, the employee had only two days to report his illness to the employee and the employer was under the obligation to facilitate a medical examination of such employee, but the New Labour Law provides the employee with three days to report an illness and lifts the obligation from the employer to facilitate a medical examination. It is now the employee’s responsibility to provide a medical report. Another example would be employee’s illness resulting from his/her own misconduct. Under the old law, there were only two categories of misconduct provided in the statute, namely use of alcohol and narcotic substances. However, the New Labour Law potentially broadens the range of activities that may fall within the scope of such misconduct. We shall wait and observe what the government regulations will define as misconduct for the purpose of sick leaves.
News Source: Khaleej Times