As companies in the UAE begin to search for more efficient and cost-effective ways to manage their businesses during COVID-19, Jane Ashford, CEO of UAE Company Support Experts - PRO Partner Group, addresses the key considerations for best practices during these unprecedented times.
As a means of reducing the financial impact of COVID-19, many businesses are considering modifications to employment arrangements. The Ministerial Resolution No. 279/2020, released by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MoHRE) provides guidance to employers on the measures that should be taken when implementing such changes. Click here for the Resolution pdf.
The resolution identifies the below listed actions which should be followed in the order of;
1) remote working
2) paid leave
3) unpaid leave
4) temporary wage reduction
5) permanent wage reduction
The Resolution requires the respective employee’s agreement and consent to any employment contract changes and it is therefore suggested that all changes are reasonable and acceptable. Employers are strongly encouraged to avoid taking measures such as termination and redundancy without firstly exhausting the options of paid leave, unpaid leave and salary reductions.
With regards to the wage reduction actions, the resolution does not define the percentage by which the salary may be reduced by nor does it state whether the reduction should be from the basic or the gross salary. Given that the respective employee’s consent is required it is advisable that all salary reductions are considered reasonable and acceptable by the employee.
For the temporary wage reduction, the employer and respective employee are required to sign a 'temporary additional appendix' to the employment contract. For a permanent wage reduction, the MoHRE will still require the normal amendments of the registered employment contract.
In all instances, the key to any proposed change to an existing employment arrangement is communication and a clearly documented agreement. Remaining transparent with employees, communicating measures implemented to safeguard their health and wellbeing in the workplace and regularly enquiring as to their welfare, are all crucial measures to take at this time.
For many employers, it will be a challenge to get employees to agree to a modification of their existing employment arrangements. Therefore, building trust and communicating openly will be highly valued and useful in establishing a basis for negotiation.
Confidentiality and Data Privacy Considerations
In the course of managing the risks and exposure of COVID-19 to employees in the workplace, an employer may, at some point, be in receipt of personal medical information of an employee. While the UAE does not have extensive data privacy laws, we recommend that companies handle any personal medical information requested or divulged by employees as sensitive personal data and ensure that they have appropriate measures in place to ensure the safety and security of such data. In particular, personal information should, where possible, be anonymised.
Workplace Health & Safety Considerations
As the UAE prepares for the safe return of employees to their places of work, we review and outline the guidelines and best practices for ensuring health and safety for your workforce.
Who can return to the workplace?
As per the Ministerial Resolution No. 281/2020, on regulating remote working in the private sector, the maximum percentage of the workforce permitted to physically attend the workplace is 30%. Priority to work remotely shall be given to those in the below listed categories;
Employees aged over fifty-five years,
Employees suffering respiratory or chronic conditions
Female employees with children in the ninth grade and lower
Companies are also required to limit the number of customers or clients visiting their premises to 30% of their seating capacity and to strictly observe health and safety precautions.
What measures must an employer implement?
Employers are required to implement preventive and precautionary measures which include but are not limited to;
Implementation of workplace controls to reduce transmission among employees; ensuring screening devices are available to take employees temperatures and assess symptoms of the virus twice per day
Ensuring the frequent cleaning and disinfection and sanitization of work equipment and communal spaces
Complying with the temporary guidance for remote working in private sectors. This requires the use of electronic and smart applications for remote working employees to conduct their remote working activities as well as the provision of electronic support and help channels
Reporting any employees with coronavirus symptoms or suspected cases
To complement the above outlined requirements, we recommend that employers consider having an emergency response procedure in place in the event that an employee tests positive for COVID-19. The procedure should outline the immediate required actions to contain the spread of the virus amongst other employees and detail the steps required for the reporting of the case to the health authorities and the identification of those who have been in contact with the infected employee.
In terms of salary payment for an employee who is infected by COVID-19, they shall be treated in the same way as any other sickness absence. According to the UAE Labour Law, an employee who has been employed for more than three months, following their probationary period is entitled to receive sick pay due to them if they need to self-isolate because;
they have coronavirus;
they have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough; or
they've been told to self-isolate by a doctor.
Further details regarding sick leave entitlements can be found here.
During these challenging times we encourage employers to adjust expectations and take a more flexible approach. Supporting your employees’ health and wellbeing is crucial to building a resilient workforce who will in turn ensure the continuity of your business.
Jane Ashford is CEO of UAE Company Support Experts - PRO Partner Group.
How can PRO Partner Group help?
COVID 19 has caused major disruption across all commercial centres and industries. Staying informed and aware of measures and steps businesses can take to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic business is crucial at this time.
PRO Partner Group is available to support you with the latest information and provide you with guidance on how best to operate during this challenging time.