On 22nd of April 2020, A presidential Directive was issued by the president of the DIFC, Maktoum Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. This Directive is referred to as “Covid-19 Emergency Measures Directive.”
What is this all about?
The COVID-19 Directive was issued to clarify and regulate the relationship between employers and their employees in the DIFC jurisdiction during the period of these emergency measures.
The Directive takes effect from 22nd of April until 31st of July 2020. However, that date could be extended further by announcement from the DIFC authority.
The COVID-19 Directive is taking in consideration the speed at which circumstances and measures change due to the unforeseen pandemic. The Directive strikes a necessary balance between giving employers the tools to sustain business viability, and the protection of employee’s rights.
Under the COVID-19 Directive, employers can take the following actions WITHOUT obtaining employee’s consent:
- Impose reduced working hours
- Impose Vacation Leave
- Impose Unpaid Leave
- Reduce salary on temporary basis (for the length of validity of this Directive)
- Restrict access to workplace facilities
- Impose remote working condition (with certain conditions, highlighted later)
At first glance, it seems that this Directive has given employers a great advantage over employees. But with a deeper look, it’s clear that it set a strict set of rules and conditions that protect employees’ rights during this emergency measures period. An employer is required to give any employee affected by the above emergency measures, a written notice at least five days in advance prior to implementing the said measures.
Sick Leaves related to COVID-19:
The Directive comes with a clear protection of employee’s right to medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic, without affecting his employment rights. The following rules apply to any employee who contracted COVID-19 (confirmed by a leave certificate issued by a competent authority i.e Dubai Health Authority or Ministry of Health and Prevention):
- Any sick leaves submitted due to an employee (i) contracting the disease or; (ii) being placed in quarantine as a preventive measure, will not be discounted of employee’s sick leave allowance (currently 60 days) under DIFC employment law.
- An employee is entitled to a full pay during the sick leave period whether due to treatment or quarantine measures as confirmed by a leave certificate issued by the competent authority.
- The affected employee shall not be subjected to any emergency measures to which he was not subject to prior to his/her COVID-19 sick leave.
- An employer is not allowed to terminate the affected employee for exceeding the 60 days sick leave allowance due to a COVID-19 related sick leave.
End of Service Gratuity
This subject has been under a lot of focus recently. DIFC authority was the first in UAE to impose a new “workplace savings scheme” to protect employee’s gratuity. The COVID-19 Directive is a further confirmation to that protection. The Directive is clear about what employees are entitled to:
- Calculation of monthly gratuity accruals for the service period until 1st of February 2020 should be based on employee’s basic salary as of 29th of February 2020, prior to any emergency measures (pay reductions).
- For employers participating in DEWS scheme and wish to transfer the gratuity amounts accrued prior to 1st of February 2020, the calculation of gratuity shall be based on the basic salary as of 29th of February 2020.
- Calculation of monthly contributions to DEWS scheme during the emergency measures (until 31st of July, so far) are based on the current basic salary (reduced pay) i.e if an employee is placed in an unpaid leave, he/she will not be entitled to DEWS contributions by the employer.
Remote working and access to workspace
The directive allows employers to use any required tools to monitor employees activity while remote working. However, it sets some obligations for employers to take necessary measures to protect data privacy of the employees.
- Employers should inform their employees in writing, what data is being collected and services being monitored
- If employers did not inform their employee (measure already been implemented) of the used measures, the employer is obliged to maintain a record of the collected data and the extent of its use
Regarding workplace access, the directive gives the employers the right to specify which job roles or functions are deemed necessary to be attending at the workplace. While limiting other functions from access to office facilities. Also, employer have the discretion to follow specific measures in line with General Health Authority in limiting the number or capacity of workplace. Employees who do not comply with such orders, might face immediate termination (for “cause”) i.e forfeiting their right to employee rights.
VISA and work-related benefits
The directive allows employers to delay cancelling their terminated employee’s visas but with certain conditions as follows:
- Employer should continue to provide basic medical insurance cover until the visa is cancelled.
- In the case that accommodation was provided as part of employment benefits (retail, hospitality, and services sector), the terminated employee is entitled to stay in the provided accommodation until the visa is cancelled.
- If an employee is terminated but his/her visa cancellation was delayed, the said employee is not entitled to any standard employment benefits (gratuity or annual leaves etc.) except the two categories mentioned above.
In an effort to ease the impact of job losses due to these emergency measures, employers can (with their employee’s permission) list their terminated or surplus employees on the DIFC available employee portal or communicate the list with the Government Services Office. This list will allow other employers to communicate with the available profiles for possible vacancies.