UAE employers forced to adapt as sick leave rates rise

Survey of 60,000 workers showed more are taking time off because of illness for longer

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Analysis of the number of sick days taken off by UAE employees in the past three years has offered a snapshot of how businesses may be forced to adapt to retain staff.

Bayzat, a business in Dubai managing HR, employee benefits, insurance and payroll services in the private sector, analysed the number of sick days taken since 2019.

From the coronavirus pandemic period on, data showed sick leave increased on average by three days per person in the companies surveyed, from 20 calendar days in 2019 to 23 in 2021.

The amount of time taken off also considerably increased.

We have decided that if any of our employees get stranded out of the country, or has to stay away from the office because of a covid-related illness we don't dock this from their annual sick leave
Hasib Khan, uDrive founder

In 2019, before the first coronavirus cases were diagnosed in the UAE, just six per cent of employees on sick leave took more than three days off.

Two years later, the number of workers taking three days or more has increased to almost 16 per cent.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to developing company sick leave policies should no longer be relevant post Covid-19,” said Ayman Kattan, chief people officer, at Bayzat.

“The line between an employee’s personal responsibility towards their health and a company’s responsibility toward employees is rapidly being blurred.

“If an employee catches Covid-19 as a result of being mandated to work from the office, should they be required to take responsibility and use up their sick leave allowance?

“An employer’s readiness, willingness and capability to offer workplace flexibility is undoubtedly a precursor to deciding their approach towards sick leave policy.”

Mr Kattan said the opposite could also become a factor for employees working remotely, who could take more responsibility for their health by getting vaccinated, for example.

Data from Bayzat was gleaned from more than 60,000 employees working in Dubai.

Company working policies are likely to continue to face disruption as more offices and workplaces return to full capacity.

Sectors reliant on manpower and public contact, such as the hospitality industry, are likely to be the most affected by any changes to sick leave allowance.

“Sick leave allowance is no longer a major component in the candidate mindset,” Mr Kattan said.

“At Bayzat, our pre-Covid candidate interviews comprised of questions aimed at deducing reasons we should hire someone.

“Today, we are constantly being asked by candidates why they should come work for us.

“Preparing ourselves to give an authentic answer to that question is key for us to attract top talent.”

As the pandemic began to unfold in May 2020, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation called on the private sector to deal with employees who became infected with Covid-19 under federal law.

The law includes an allowance of sick leave of no more than 90 days on completion of a probation period.

The first 15 days of sick leave are granted with full pay, followed by 30 days on half pay and the following 45 days unpaid.

The ministry encouraged businesses not to terminate an employee’s service if Covid-19 is diagnosed and "shoulder their social and legal responsibilities" towards employees.

Complaints against unfair dismissal in Covid cases are referred to the labour courts for arbitration.

In Dubai, car rental company uDrive founder Hasib Khan said supporting staff during the pandemic has become a priority for the business.

“For us, the health, safety and overall wellbeing of our employees is of prime importance,” he said.

“Covid-19 has impacted us all in one way or the other but we want to make sure the impact on our employees is minimal.

“As such, we have decided that if any of our employees get stranded out of the country, or has to stay away from the office because of a Covid-related illness, we don't dock this from their annual sick leave.

"Having to deal with the stresses of Covid are bad enough; we don't want our employees to have to feel like they are being further penalised or worry about their jobs.”

A sick-day programme introduced in Canada to protect vulnerable workers resulted in the government reimbursing employers with payments of $200 (Dh580) a day for up to three days, to pass on to staff unable to work because of the coronavirus.

As of July 16, employers submitted claims under the the Ontario Covid-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit for 39,887 employees since the programme took effect, with an average of 1.8 days claimed per worker.

But in the US, 27 per cent of workers did not have access to sick pay, according to 2019 figures from the Bureau of Labour Statistics – about 32 million people.

Updated: August 01, 2021, 5:50 AM