'Can my company lock me into a two-year contract?'

The Abu Dhabi employee wants to resign and is concerned about the penalties her employer wants to impose

Two people are standing at a table, across from each other. Their hands grasp each others in a firm handshake. On the table sits a contract of employment. Getty Images
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I have been with my company for nearly a year but recently realised they do not pay well and I want to leave the company. I am not on probation any more so I only have to give notice of one month. However, my employer says there was a minimum service period of two years in the offer letter — the same length of time as my visa — and if I leave during this period I have to repay the visa costs and also another penalty. I don't believe this is in my government labour contract but just in the internal offer letter. I signed this as I really needed the job. Will I have to pay the visas costs or a penalty, as I will have been at the company for a year when I leave? MV, Abu Dhabi

Adding a clause to an offer letter stating that an employee must repay visa costs is illegal and that is why it is not in the official contract that is lodged with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE). Article 60 of UAE Labour Law makes it clear that no monies should be deducted from employees and this was reiterated in Ministerial Order 52 of 1989, Article 6. This states that all expenses incurred in taking on an employee must be borne by the employer and cannot be passed on to the employee. Should any employer attempt to do this, then a case should be registered with the MoHRE directly (helpline number 800 66473) or via a local Tasheel office.

Separate to this MV appears to be on a fixed-term contract, so she will be liable to pay a penalty for breaking the terms of the contract by leaving early. Per Article 116 of Labour Law, " … the worker shall be bound to compensate the employer for the loss incurred thereto by reason of the rescission of the contract, provided that the amount of compensation does not exceed the wage of half a month for the period of three months, or for the remaining period of the contract, whichever is shorter, unless otherwise stipulated in the contract". This penalty equates to approximately 45 days of pay.

I am a marine chief engineer from Sri Lanka and want to join a shipping company. The company says it has doubts about securing me a visa, so what are the maximum age limits to get a work visa to live in the UAE? JD, Sri Lanka

Most companies seem to operate an upper age limit of 60 for their employees. However, there is no longer an upper age limit for employees as this was increased in 2011. After 60, however, this becomes more complicated as residency visas are subject to approval by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation and must be renewed annually, rather than every two or three years. This is obviously an additional cost for an employer and the cost of medical insurance increases significantly as this is age related. For these reasons, few companies are keen to take on employees aged 60 or over as it increases their own costs. However, they can still apply for a visa if required.

I used to work for a hotel in the UAE but my manager shouted at me a lot and one day I decided to leave and did not give notice or cancel my visa. I was then given an absconding ban. Can I take a flight from India to London, which connects in Dubai? Will I have a problem if I am transiting through the UAE? NR, India

If an employer leaves without giving notice by simply failing to turn up to work, they will be marked as an absconder as the employer is obliged to report them as such and they are banned from working in the UAE for at least one year. This is in accordance with Article 128 of UAE Labour Law which states: “Should the non-national worker leave work without a valid cause prior to the end of the contract with definite term, he may not get another employment even with the permission of the employer for a year from the date of abandonment of the work. No employer may knowingly recruit the worker or retain in his service during such period.” This kind of ban is related to employment and should not prevent a person from applying to re-enter the UAE on a tourist visa, although they will not be approved for a work-related visa during the period of the ban.

In this case, transiting should not be an issue, even if NR experiences an unexpected delay and has to enter the UAE as he should not be banned from entering the UAE.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with over 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