Jail term for Emirati woman after worker's death highlights employers' duty of care

A woman imprisoned after her employee was electrocuted is to be released following the intervention of the Ruler of Sharjah

June 2, 2010 / Abu Dhabi / (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National) An detail of the judge's gavel in the State Security Security Court room at the Federal Supreme Court building, photographed, Wednesday, June 2, 2010 in Abu Dhabi.
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Related: Sharjah Ruler to pay Dh200,000 blood money to release Emirati woman from prison

The case of an Emirati woman imprisoned after her employee was electrocuted has highlighted the duty of care employers must uphold in regard to their staff.

A criminal case was filed against her in a court in Sharjah's Kalba area and she was asked to pay blood money to the family of the worker.

She is set to be freed thanks to the intervention of Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, who agreed to pay the Dh200,000 amount following a plea from her husband on the emirate's government-run radio station.

No further details about the legal case against the woman were disclosed.

But the matter has put into sharp focus the responsibilities of an employer or sponsor, following the wrongful death of a worker.

Here, The National examines what a wrongful death is defined as under UAE law, what action can be taken against employers and how far their duty of care extends.

According to the UAE’s penal code, mistakenly causing the death or injury of a person due to negligent behaviour is a crime.

Wrongful death cases can include fatal incidents that happen at the workplace or as a result of car accidents.

What sponsors can do to boost safety

“Employers must always ensure safety procedures are followed in the workplace,” said Emirati lawyer Eman Al Rifai.

“Protective equipment is a must and warning signs should be in place in languages workers understand.”

She said should the nature of the job require safety training, employers must ensure this is conducted regularly.

Prosecutors decide whether to bring criminal charges. They need to provide the court with supporting documents that prove safety regulations at the scene of accident were not followed, such as medical and safety experts' reports.

An issue for every employer

The country's wrongful death law covers not only companies and people overseeing large numbers of staff, but also sponsors who may only have a single employee, such as a maid or nanny.

A legal expert said those employing domestic help would also be liable under the law, but it would require evidence of wrongdoing on their part.

“If a nanny died after a glass board that has not been secured well by the sponsor fell on her, then the sponsor or employer may be held responsible,” said legal consultant Ayham Al Moghrabi.

“Or if you have a private driver and he was involved in an accident that traffic experts proved was due to poor maintenance on the car, the employer can be prosecuted if it was his responsibility to carry out the maintenance,” he added.

“We can't list all the safety requirements and precautions at all of the different types of workplaces but we can say that employers, whether of large groups of workers or even people like domestic workers, must always ensure safety precautions are in place and are kept up to date.”

Tough punishments for breaching duty of care

Offenders can face up to five years in prison and a fine, or one these two penalties.

“This applies if the crime occurred as a result of the offender’s breach of the duties of their profession or trade, or if they were under the influence of alcohol or anaesthesia, or if at that time refrained from assisting the victim despite being able to do so,” article 342 of the penal code states.

In a case in 2018, a worker was crushed to death at a Jebel Ali construction site.

He was on his way to take a drink from a water cooler and was crushed between a crane that was reversing and a stack of timber.

The Pakistani crane driver, site supervisor and project manager were all charged with causing wrongful death but reports proved both the driver and supervisor were not at fault.

Dubai Court of Misdemeanours then convicted the project manager and he received a suspended six-month prison term.

He was also fined Dh10,000 and ordered to pay Dh200,000 in blood money.

Following a wrongful-death lawsuit against an employer in a criminal court, surviving family members can file a civil suit seeking compensation.

Updated: March 24, 2022, 1:18 PM