'Can my employer sack me for taking sick leave?'

Under the UAE Labour Law, employers have the right to terminate staff if they are off work for a long period of time

Under the UAE Labour Law, employees are entitled to a sick leave not exceeding 90 consecutive or non-consecutive days for every year of service. Getty Images
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I have been off work for two weeks already this year as I hurt my back and then had flu. I was genuinely ill and got certificates from my doctor, which I sent to my employer. I only took a few days off sick last year. My manager has now told me that they will not pay me for any more days I take off due to illness during this calendar year, which seems unfair as I can't help being ill. She also hinted that if I take much more time off work, I will be terminated. Are companies allowed to terminate people if they are ill, or not pay them? AS, Dubai

AS works for a mainland company that comes under the rules of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation and so UAE Labour Law applies. This sets out the minimum obligation regarding the payment of employees if they are off work due to ill health.

Article 183 of the law states: “Should the worker spend more than three months after the end of the probation period in the continuous service of the employer and contracted an illness, he shall be entitled to a sick leave not exceeding 90 consecutive or non-consecutive days for every year of service, calculated as follows: a. The first 15 days with full pay; b. The following 30 days with half pay; c. The following periods without pay."

I understand that AS has been with the employer for a year, so is entitled for full pay for the 10 working days taken off so far, as well as for another five days if needed. However, any days of sick leave after this, up to a maximum of 30 additional days, can be paid at 50 per cent of the standard daily rate.

The employer must follow the law in this regard and can pay the lower amount for any more days of sick leave that AS takes in 2021. After this, any additional days would be without pay.

It is important to note, however, that the employer does have the right to terminate an employee if they are off work for a long period of time.

Article 85 of the UAE Labour Law says: “The employer may terminate the service of the worker subsequent to the exhaustion thereby of the sick leaves set forth in Articles 82, 83 and 84 hereof, should he not be able to report back to his work. In such case, the worker shall be entitled to the end-of-service gratuity in accordance with the provisions hereof.”

This applies only if someone has been off work due to health issues for more than 90 days.

I work for an education company and was put on gardening leave from October 1, 2020, until January 2021. My issue is that my company terminated me due to low class numbers but one month prior to my termination, they employed four staff and they were still on probation at the time I was let go. These new employees all kept their jobs. I had a two-year contract that started in August 2019.

I feel this was an injustice. I should have kept my position and someone else who was on probation should have been let go. Can I make a complaint or take any action so I get to keep my job? SB, Ras al Khaimah

As SB was working for a private company, the UAE Labour Law and Ministerial Decrees and Resolutions from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation will apply in this case.

I understand that AS has been with the employer for a year, so is entitled for full pay for the 10 working days taken off so far and for another five days

When SB says gardening leave, she means that she was not working in line with the options under Ministerial Decree No. 279 of 2020, which was introduced during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. This permitted employers to put staff on reduced salaries or unpaid leave for a specified period of time provided it was fully documented and agreed.

If an employee is terminated, an employer needs to provide a specific reason for the action and this must be valid. It may be that the newer employees had a different skillset or role and that is why they were retained rather than SB.

She would need to demonstrate that the termination was unrelated to her work in order to lodge a case against the company for arbitrary dismissal. There is nothing in the law that states any employer has to have a "first in, last out" termination policy.

As SB was on a fixed-term contract, she is entitled to payment from the employer for breaking the terms of the agreement, in line with Article 115 of the UAE Labour Law.

This states: “Should the employment contract be of a determined term and the employer rescind same … he shall be bound to compensate the worker for the damage incurred thereto, provided that the compensation amount does not exceed in any case the total wage due for the period of three months or for the remaining period of the contract, whichever is shorter, unless otherwise stipulated in the contract.”

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