Some bosses still trying to prevent employees from switching companies, UAE judge says

Labour laws ensure a resident has the right to switch jobs as they wish but some employers are still dragging their heels, officials say

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Sweeping changes made to UAE labour laws in February further protect the rights of employees and have made it easier for them to switch jobs.

This includes shorter probation periods, the right to join a competitor immediately after resigning and the possibility of refusing to work during the notice period if the employee can prove mistreatment at the hands of the employer.

Here, The National explains the rights of the employees that have received less coverage until now.

Is the probation period mandatory in the UAE? Can I skip it?

The new clauses in the labour laws have brought changes to the probation period.

Probation is not automatic and an employee has to agree to that period at the start of their employment.

It is customary to have a probation period of two or three months for employees. This can go up to a maximum of six months.

Courts still see cases of employees who worked without contracts and of others who are requesting to regain documents like passports, degrees and even birth certificates that were seized by their employers
Dr Ali Al Hosani, judge at Dubai Labour Court

This is currently the case but exceptions are permitted if mutually agreed on before signing the employment contract.

“Employees and employers can agree on the duration of the probation period, which can be as short as one month,” said Dr Ahmad Al Shehhi, head of labour complaints at the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

He was speaking at the Second Employer Forum organised by Sharjah’s Labour Standards Development Authority (LSDA) on Tuesday.

“Rights such as salary and leave days will be applicable immediately after completing the probation period," he said.

Legal consultant Ashraf Sakr told The National that under the new labour laws, it is possible to cancel the probation period entirely.

“When the old law used the phrase 'no more than six months', it was only to make the maximum duration of the probation period clear to all,” he said.

“This means that employers and employees could come to an agreement that reduces the duration of the probation period or even cancel it entirely.”

Under the old Labour Law, employees on probation could be also terminated without notice, but this is no longer the case. Under the new laws, all employees on probation must be given 14 days’ notice of termination by the employer.

The situation is slightly different for employees who wish to leave. All employees who are on probation must give formal notice if they end their employment with a company. The exact number of days depends on their intentions.

If the employee intends to leave the UAE, they are required to provide notice of 14 days. If the employee is moving to a new job within the country, they are required to give 30 days' notice.

If an employee moves to a new company within the probation period, the new employer is obliged to compensate the previous employer for costs incurred in employing them, such as visa fees.

Can I join a competitor immediately after resigning from my current job?

Yes, the new laws make this possible.

Before the changes were introduced, an employer could stop an employee from moving to another company in the same industry for two years and could place a work ban on the person if he did so.

This rule was only applicable to employees moving from one private-sector job to another, and not to those moving to a government job.

This limited the options of employees. Many would leave the country for two years and then return to another job in the UAE.

But this has changed. Workers are free to move to any company immediately after they resign from their current job and employers cannot stop them.

“The previous law didn’t allow that free movement and some employers misused that freedom to impose work bans against their employees who wanted to work for others,” Mr Sakr said.

Can I refuse to work during the notice period?

This may be allowed in rare cases.

Dr Ali Al Hosani, the appeal judge and director of the technical office at Dubai Labour Court, who also spoke at the employer forum in Sharjah, said a person could not be asked to work during the notice period if he could prove unfair treatment at work.

Such unfair treatment includes not paying their salary on time, subjecting employees to abuse, discrimination or anything that may pose risk to their safety. All this should have been proved in a labour department or court.

It is up to the company to have the employee come to the office during the notice period or let him stay at home. The employee will be entitled to their salary during the notice period and all benefits when leaving the job.

Know your rights

Dr Al Hosani urged workers and employers to be more aware of their rights and responsibilities, and to ensure that all the details of their employment relationship are documented.

“Everything must be documented because these documents are evidence, should anything go wrong,” he said.

“Courts still see cases of employees who worked without contracts and of others who are requesting to regain possession of documents like passports, degrees and even birth certificates that were seized by their employers.”

The speakers at the forum also explained that employees who are being forced to do work that is entirely different from what they were hired for can resign and join a new company.

Dr Al Hosani said an employee needed to lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation if their employer failed to honour the work contract.

“Employers will be given 14 days to resolve the disputes before they are referred to court,” he said.

“The new law aims to resolve disputes, not overload the courts with cases; that is why it gives employers a grace period of 14 days.

“Almost 90 per cent of 13,338 labour cases heard by Dubai courts in 2021 were about unpaid wages, which remain on top of the list of this year’s cases as well.”

Out of the total number of cases, 2,379 were resolved amicably, he said.

New Labour Law explained — in pictures

Updated: June 09, 2022, 12:47 PM