‘Do I have to repay my housing allowance to my ex-employer after losing my job?’

If the reason for termination was due to Covid-19, the employer must continue to pay for the housing until the employee either leaves the UAE or finds a new job

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I worked for a business in the UAE for 10 years. My service was terminated in February this year. My salary package included a housing allowance, which is usually paid upfront in January. But the employer is now asking me to return this amount.

Are they legally entitled to demand that I return the housing allowance and other incentives? They are also holding on to my passport and not returning it until I pay them the money or provide a guarantee. AK, Dubai

AK has not confirmed the reason for the termination, but this has a bearing on his situation. If his employment was ended due to his performance or another reason that is entirely unrelated to Covid-19, then repayment of the housing, or any other, allowance is dependent on what is written in the contract of employment.

It is not uncommon for a contract to include an annual allowance that is paid in advance for the benefit of the employee but if a full year of service is not completed, part of the allowance must be repaid on a pro-rata basis. This is because it is advanced by the employer to assist the employee.

The situation is different if AK was terminated because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In March 2020, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation published Ministerial Resolution No. 279 of 2020 and the terms of this still stand.

The resolution makes it clear that the employer has a responsibility to the employee, even if employment has ended, and that they must continue to pay for their housing until the individual either leaves the UAE or starts a new job.

This was reiterated by Abdulla Al Nuaimi, head of the Abu Dhabi Labour Court, who said that this is federal legislation, meaning it is relevant in all seven emirates, and that companies must continue to pay housing allowances to staff who have been terminated due to Covid-19.

If AK’s termination was due to Covid-19, then he needs to contact the MoHRE to register a case to claim the housing allowance that is due.

In addition, no employer is permitted to retain a passport, so they are breaking the law by doing this. This is another reason to register a case against them.

Once an employer has either arranged or cancelled a visa, they must return the passport to the rightful owner

Once an employer has either arranged or cancelled a visa, they must return the passport to the rightful owner. Anyone whose passport is retained can register a case or go directly to the police if the document is required urgently.

I have questions regarding end-of-service salary, visa cancellation and accommodation. I resigned from my current role at a private school and will finish work in a few weeks. My visa will be cancelled on my last day at work.

The human resources department informed me that my end-of-service settlement will be paid at the end of July, which does not make sense to me.

They also informed me that I have to move out of the school's accommodation seven days after my last day of work. I start at the new school on August 20 and have no idea where my daughter and I will go for six weeks. WS, Abu Dhabi

The topic of some schools cancelling visas early and delaying the gratuity payment was covered in my column on June 12. To summarise, this is not in the spirit of the law but is common practice in some schools. Employees need to ensure that they have written confirmation of the dates that benefits are payable in order to protect themselves.

In cases where accommodation is provided as part of a contract of employment, access to this should continue for up to 30 days after the end of service. This is covered in Article 131 of the UAE Labour Law: “In the event where the employer provides the worker with accommodation, the worker shall vacate the accommodation within 30 days from the date of termination of the employment thereof.”

If an employer asks someone to vacate premises sooner, they will be in breach of the UAE Labour Law. WS should first advise the HR department of the law and if they fail to comply, she can contact the MoHRE to register a complaint.

The employer is only obliged to provide accommodation for 30 days, so if there is a longer period before the new employer offers housing, it is up to WS to make her own arrangements.

My daughter was recently married and has been under my sponsorship. Is it possible for me to continue sponsoring her or does she now have to renew her residence visa under her husband? lR, Abu Dhabi

An expatriate resident can only sponsor his daughter if she is unmarried. Her age is immaterial but as soon as a sponsored daughter marries, she needs to change her sponsorship to her husband or employer.

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