'My former employer is holding on to my passport over traffic fines. Is this legal?'

If an employee leaves their job, the company should check for any fines online before calculating end-of-service dues

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 9 – 2020 :- Traffic at the entrance of Ghantoot Covid testing site near the Dubai – Abu Dhabi border. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Online. Story by Shireena
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I have left my job and my visa has been cancelled. However, there are some traffic fines issued against the company car I used. My former employer is now trying to force me to pay the fines despite not telling me about them before cancelling my visa.

He has my passport and says I need to pay the fines before giving it back. Is this legal? WK, Abu Dhabi

There are two issues to address here. Firstly, no employer should ever retain an employee’s passport for longer than strictly necessary. A passport can be given to an employer to obtain a visa or cancel one, although the latter is not always necessary. However, a passport should be handed back as soon as the process is complete.

If someone drives a company vehicle and incurs traffic fines, it is reasonable that the employee is responsible for the cost of the fine. I would certainly expect this cost to be passed on and for this to be clear in a contract of employment.

If someone is leaving their job, their employer should check for any fines online before calculating their end-of-service dues. However, there are times when a fine may take a few days to show on government systems. If the employee has incurred a fine, the employer should provide evidence of the date and time the offence occurred.

Despite this, the employer should not be holding on to a passport and must return it. UAE government officials have repeatedly stated that no employer should retain an employee’s passport.

The Ministry of Interior issued decree 267 of 2002 that states: “As the passport is a personal document and as the law obliges its owner to keep and show when required by the governmental authorities, it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by the official parties with a judicial order and according to the law. Consequently, it will be considered as an illegal action to detain the passport in UAE except by the governmental parties.”

The offence carries a jail sentence and a fine of up to Dh20,000. If an employer refuses to return a passport, the worker can file a case against them with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation and can also go directly to the police if the document is required urgently.

In the absence of a UAE will, as a first step, the family will have to apply for a succession certificate in the Personal Status Court in Dubai

My husband died in February and I am dealing with his assets as his main beneficiary. We have wills in our home country but none in the UAE.

There are two cars in his name. However, I am getting mixed advice on whether I am allowed to sell them. One person said that I can sell the cars as I am his main beneficiary. My daughter and I plan to leave the UAE soon. Will I be able to sell the vehicles after obtaining a court agreement at a reasonable cost? AP, Dubai

After communicating with AP, I have learnt that a lawyer quoted her a fee of more than Dh20,000 to deal with her late husband’s basic assets in the Dubai Courts. This seemed excessive. Instead, I sought comment from a legal practice.

Daniel O’Brien of Horizons & Co law firm, said: “In the absence of a UAE will, as a first step, the family will have to apply for a succession certificate in the Personal Status Court in Dubai. A succession certificate is a document that determines the legal heirs and the legitimacy of a successor to a deceased’s estate, including, but not limited to, vehicles in the UAE.

“Upon the submission of the required documents such as passport copies of the deceased and of the family [together with the visa page of the deceased], marriage certificate and death certificate, along with a nominal court fee, the court will issue a succession certificate. An inheritance file is opened for distribution of the deceased’s assets according to each legal heir’s share as per the succession certificate. An application, along with the applicable fee, will be submitted to the court regarding transfer of the vehicles to your name so that you may sell them.

“The procedure before the Personal Status Court is comparatively fast and cost effective. Fees should be in the region of Dh2,000.”

While a lawyer can be engaged to deal with such processes, you can save money by dealing with it personally and the court is helpful in such situations.

The process can easily be started by applying for an Application for Succession Declaration (heirship certificate) at an Al Adheed Centre, a division of Dubai Courts, at a cost of Dh105. However, court fees are also payable. You will find more information on Al Adheed's website.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with more than 25 years’ experience. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE

The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only