'Do I have to worry about a non-compete clause if I quit my job?'

Under UAE labour law, there are provisions to protect a company's business interests

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Question: I joined my company in 2022 but want to resign soon. I am looking at other jobs and want to move out of sales and into management. It may not be the same type of work or in the same sector.

My contract includes a non-compete clause and I would like to know how this will affect me. Does it really mean I won’t be able to work for a year if I leave the company, as it seems to say? RC, Abu Dhabi

Answer: Article 10 of the UAE labour law includes a section on non-compete clauses for employees.

“If the work assigned to the worker allows him to gain knowledge of the employer’s clients or have access to its work secrets, the employer may require that the worker under the employment contract shall not, after the expiry of the contract, compete with the employer or be engaged in any competing project in the same sector, provided that the requirement is specified, in terms of time, place and type of work, to the extent necessary to protect the legitimate business interests,” according to the law.

Watch: New UAE labour laws come into effect

New UAE labour laws come into effect

New UAE labour laws come into effect

“The non-competition period shall not be more than two years from the expiry date of the contract,” it adds.

These provisions are not intended to stop someone from undertaking any work in the UAE but to protect the legitimate business interests of the employer, the idea being that someone who is privy to sensitive company information cannot immediately use that elsewhere, potentially harming their former employer.

There are restrictions in terms of geographical location, the amount of time, the type of work and so forth. The clause is not expected to be used against junior employees, nor to prevent a departing employee from working.

If the employer believes that they have a legitimate claim, the onus is on them to act against the former employee.

In most cases, a claim will need to be made in the relevant court and the burden of proof is on the employer, as they will need to demonstrate the damage caused to their business.

Note that the clause is not valid if an individual is terminated and both parties agree in writing that it will not apply.

In addition, it is not valid if an employee leaves during their probationary period, and certain categories of worker are exempt per Cabinet resolutions.

Article 10 of labour law also says: “The claim filed by the employer for the worker’s violation of the provisions of this Article shall not be heard if one year has passed from the date of discovering the violation.”

This means that the employer must act within one year of the end of employment.

It should be noted by both employees and employers that the intention of non-competition clauses is to prevent damage to a business, not to prevent individuals from changing companies and furthering their careers.

Q: I got into a bit of trouble in my teenage years and have an old conviction for criminal damage in Ireland. This was over 15 years ago. I was lucky that I didn’t have to go to prison but paid a fine. I am now looking at moving to Dubai and am concerned that my childish idiocy could cause a problem.

Will something that happened long ago stop me from getting a visa in Dubai? I planned to travel to meet some companies first, but would it be a problem entering the country as I have heard rules are strict? Is there anything I can do? FM, Ireland

A: Firstly, when someone enters the UAE on a tourist or visit visa, there are no automatic checks of any past criminal records. This only becomes an issue if a person has an international arrest warrant or is on an Interpol list. This is not the case for FM.

It may be that because there was no custodial sentence, the conviction is “spent”, meaning it is no longer relevant and does not have to be disclosed. Minor public order offences in Ireland are generally deemed spent after seven years.

I suggest that FM checks this with the Garda Síochána, the Irish national police force. In my understanding, if it is considered spent, the conviction no longer has to be disclosed in a job application.

However, if an employer asks about past convictions, the wording of the question needs to be considered carefully so that it is answered truthfully.

Failure to disclose relevant information, especially if relevant to the position and company, can cause issues, so it is best to be honest from the outset. Errors made as a youth should not be held against someone for their whole life, especially when of a minor nature.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with more than 30 years’ experience. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com or at www.financialuae.com

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

Updated: January 14, 2024, 4:00 AM