Changes to the way employment in the private sector operates, such as flexible working and shared jobs, were introduced on Wednesday, February 2, 2022.
Among the headline changes are shorter, fixed-term contracts for most private sector employees, the ability to stay in the country for 180 days after leaving your job, and the introduction of job shares, which may suit students and people returning to the workplace. And there are significant changes to maternity leave.
UAE officials recently told private sector bosses that they have to strictly follow these new laws, and warned that a lack of knowledge could not be an excuse to break the law.
The National explains what's new.
What new work options are now available?
Under condensed hours options, if an employee works 40 hours a week in line with their contract, they can now work those hours over three days, according to Abdulrahman Al Awar, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation.
Other flexible working options include shared jobs, when two people do one job and split the hours after agreeing to the arrangement with their employer.
People can now work for more than one employer for a specified number of working hours or days.
They can also take on work for a temporary period to complete a specific task.
Working hours or days can also be changed, depending on the workload and an employer’s needs. Employers may also allow people to choose the times they work.
Dr Hassan Elhais, a legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates, said the abolition of unlimited contracts, anti-discrimination protection and the new work models such as flexi-time, part-time work and supplementary leave are the headline changes.
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"For flexible work, this is a new thing,” said Mohamed Rouchdi, partner at ICLO law firm.
“There is something very good here for employed students, who can freely work and have their own arrangements with mutual consent from their employer.”
What other changes have been made to contracts?
Employment contracts must now be limited.
This means people on indefinite, or permanent, contracts will be switched to fixed-term contracts of up to three years, which can be renewed.
Probation periods cannot be more than six months, and a notice of two weeks must be given to terminate them during this time. Employees who want to change jobs during the probation period must give a month’s notice, or 14 days if they want to leave the country.
“In case the employee wishes to join another employer during of course the probationary period the employee will have to serve 30 days’ notice,” Mr Rouchdi said.
“And in this case, also, the new employer will have to compensate the old employer for the visa costs and expenses for the hiring of the ex-employee. It’s like compensation.”
If an employee leaves the country then returns to take up a new job within three months, the new employer would have to pay the former employer for the visa costs and the labour expenses incurred, he said.
Employers cannot force workers to leave the country after they leave their job or their employment is terminated. Instead, the former employee will be allowed up to 180 days to find a job without overstaying their visa.
Under the previous law, someone who had their residency visa cancelled had just 30 days to find new work or leave the country without incurring fines for overstaying, making this one of the most significant changes.
How has protection for employees been strengthened?
Discrimination is prohibited in any form, be it race, colour, gender, religion, nationality, social origin or disability. A new minimum wage will be set.
“Article 27 of the new law will set a minimum wage, which is a new thing for the UAE to do,” Dr Elhais said.
“A proposal from the Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, in collaboration with other authorities, will set the minimum wage in the United Arab Emirates."
The new laws also provide more protection against harassment.
Employees cannot be forced to work any more than two hours of overtime a day. And if their job requires it, they must be paid 25 per cent more than their regular hourly rate.
In addition, employers cannot withhold employees’ documents, such as passports, and they cannot charge workers recruitment fees.
Employees will not have to pay legal fees when filing labour cases against employers for compensation of less than Dh100,000. If the amount is more than Dh100,000, there will be legal fees to pay.
End of service gratuity payments can now be paid in either UAE dirhams, or an employee’s chosen currency, as agreed upon in the employment contract.
All end-of-service entitlements must be paid within 14 days to avoid a penalty, Dr Elhais said.
Employees must also be given one month from the end of the contract to leave accommodation that might be paid for by their employer.
Employers must pay any end of service benefits due to the employee’s family in the event of their death. The employer must cover the cost of repatriating their body.
Employees can now be served notice during their period of leave, but the notice period will not begin until the first day they return to work, Mr Rouchdi said.
In addition, notice periods can be no longer than three months.
Employment can be terminated without notice for 10 specific reasons, including in the case of misuse of power by the employee, or if the employee gains personal benefits from their position.
Rights have also been strengthened for employees in terms of termination, giving them the power to leave their job without serving a notice period.
“Article 45 has increased the reasons for termination by the employee without notice,” Dr Elhais said.
“Under paragraph four of Article 45 under the new law, which permits the employee to terminate the contract in case of significant change of his tasks or work. And without a written consent of the employee. This should be, of course, to the employee’s favour.”
What about paid leave?
Everyone must have at least one rest day, with the option of more depending on their contract.
Employees must receive paid mourning leave of between three and five days, depending on their relationship to the deceased.
“They will be able to ask for bereavement leave of five days after the death of a spouse and three days after the death of a close family member; parental leave of five days within six months of the birth of a child, and study leave of 10 days for employees who need to take exams if they have worked for two years for the same employer,” Dr Elhais said.
“Mothers will also get more time off, with 45 days of full pay and 15 days of half pay.”
Fathers are permitted five days’ paid leave across all emirates.
Is there anything else you need to be aware of?
Non-compete clauses can now be written into a contract, allowing an employer to prevent a former employee from competing against them or participating in a competing project in the same sector.
In another change, teenagers aged 15 and above can now work after obtaining written approval from their parents and a medical fitness report. They should not, however, be hired to do risky jobs or work later than 7pm. They must also work no longer than six hours each day, inclusive of a one-hour break.
The changes, introduced by Federal Decree-Law No 33 of 2021, were issued by President Sheikh Khalifa in November.
Who do these new laws apply to?
Those working in the private sector only but not including domestic workers.
“All private sector employees and employers in the UAE, onshore and in the free zones, are subject to the new law, except for those in the DIFC and ADGM, which have their own employment legislation,” Dr Elhais said.