‘Can my employer legally check my work emails?’

A company can undertake email monitoring only after obtaining the employee’s consent and for work-related reasons

BH9T72 Apple Macintosh Mail program email messages. Alamy

My boss has informed my team that he will be checking our work emails from time to time to make sure we are not doing anything wrong. While I am happy to copy him in on the messages we send, this seems a bit excessive and intrusive. We all work long hours, so we also use emails for the odd non-work thing for convenience and to save time. Can you tell me where we stand legally on this issue? PH, Dubai

This is a legal issue, so I sought the guidance of Thenji Molo, legal director and co-head of the employment department at DWF. She advised: “In the UAE, the right to privacy is a fundamental right that is protected by various pieces of legislation, which include the UAE Constitution, the UAE Penal Code and the Cybercrimes Law. The Cybercrimes Law makes it an offence to use IT to infringe on privacy rights.

“As a general principle, an employer has the ability to monitor emails, provided the company has obtained the employee’s consent and the surveillance is strictly for work-related reasons. In practice, this consent is obtained in an employment contract or by the employee’s acknowledgement of the staff handbook.

“If the employee uses the work emails for personal use, then it is recommended that permission is sought to create a clearly marked personal folder for private and family matters in order to maintain and preserve privacy. Companies should adhere to the law as there are hefty penalties for breach of privacy, which include imprisonment and fines of up to Dh3 million.”

I suggest that PH checks the company handbook, assuming there is one, and the full employment contract. In all cases, even with legal protection, it is wise to keep work and personal correspondence separate.

I have been offered a new job with a fairly large company, but I have some concerns about the final offer. I was originally told that the salary would be a total of Dh36,000 a month, which is an average for this type of position, but in the contract of employment, there is a basic salary of Dh18,000, with the rest of it made up of various allowances such as housing and transport. I am not entirely happy with this as I would have expected the split to be explained at the interview, not at this late stage, especially since I know that many jobs in my field now offer basic salary only.

Is there anything in the UAE Labour Law that states how the total salary should be split? I believe that the final gratuity is based on the basic salary, but can allowances also be included? DN, Abu Dhabi

There is nothing in the UAE Lab­our Law that specifies the split between basic salary and allowances, so the split is at the discretion of the company but it is expected to be reasonable and justifiable. The end-of-service gratuity is calculated on the basic salary, so companies should not keep this artificially low to reduce their future liabilities. If they wish, any employer can pay a higher gratuity figure, but that is purely at their discretion and it is rare for any company to pay any more than they have to.

The end-of-service gratuity is calculated on the basic salary, so companies should not keep this artificially low to reduce their future liabilities

That said, the general expectation is that the basic salary would not be less than 60 per cent of the total, but if it is less than 50 per cent, the employee would have a strong claim for unfair treatment with the Labour Court if they choose to challenge that. But there is no guarantee that a claim would be upheld and it is far better to agree an appropriate split at the outset.

Can you tell me if the law states whether I am entitled to compassionate leave? My cousin died recently and due to current travel restrictions, I was not able to take annual leave to travel home to see my family or go to his funeral. We were close as we grew up together. On the day I heard the news, I took a day off and then another day a week later on the day of the funeral. I let my boss know each time, but when I got back to work after the funeral, I was told that the days were part of my annual leave. Is this correct? ML, Dubai

There is nothing in the UAE Labour Law that refers to compassionate leave or that states any employer must allow an employee to take additional days of leave. In situations like this, it is purely down to the employer’s discretion, although I would like to think that most employers would be sympathetic, especially at this time. Some private companies have provisions for compassionate leave, as would be stated in a company handbook, but this is entirely a company decision.

In this case, the employer is legally correct in insisting that the days are part of annual leave.

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