DUBAI // Unscrupulous employers are bullying pregnant women from their jobs using methods such as docking holidays for morning sickness or other maternity-related illness and introducing extra work hours in the evening or at the weekend.
And a mothers’ recruitment company suggests the ability of the law to protect pregnant women against callous employers is in question.
“Sarah”, a lawyer and mother of two in Dubai, claims she was hounded out of her job when she announced she was expecting a third child.
“It started with HR taking eight days off my annual leave entitlement for being 15 or 20 minutes late on a few occasions due to morning sickness,” she said.
“My pregnancy was never taken into account, I was just sent a warning letter about my conduct. It is like a switch was flicked. As soon as I fell pregnant I received a barrage of bullying tactics from the HR department.”
Sarah was told she was being put on “performance watch”, despite having an impeccable record, working extra hours and during lunch breaks.
She had been rewarded with a bonus and had a good reputation among her peers.
After a decade of working for top legal firms in Dubai, Sarah, who is due to give birth in days, has since been told her job in corporate law is being terminated. An offer of only three months’ salary has been made as compensation.
“I was terminated from my previous company after having my first child when he was a few months old, again for reasons related to not being able to work late and on weekends,” she said.
“It has been stressful and I’ve not been able to go in on some days as a result. It has been even more of a worry thinking I would lose my job. I’m devastated that’s now happened.”
Louise Karim, from Mums@Work, a recruitment company in the UAE helping mothers back into employment, said women starting families could pay a high price.
“It would put some off having children,” Ms Karim said. “Women should not be penalised for building a family. It is possible to do both.
“And three months’ compensation for someone who is in this position is not adequate when they’ve lost their career and income just because they have started a family.”
Common tactics used by unscrupulous employers to provide grounds for dismissing new mothers or forcing them out the door also include forcing them to express breast milk in company toilets, because they say there is no other option.
If a woman feels her job has been terminated or she has been forced to resign because of her pregnancy, she faces a long and expensive legal process to prove wrongdoing if a dispute cannot be resolved amicably.
Compensation for a claim of unfair dismissal can be up to three months’ salary, at the discretion of a judge.
Jenine AbdelJaber, an associate lawyer at MAD Advocates in Dubai, said anyone who feared they were being ousted should get the employer’s unreasonable demands in writing.
“That way if the issue does ever escalate later on, she will have sufficient evidence to prove that those incidents did in fact occur,” Ms AbdelJaber said.
“For instance, if an employer asks the woman to work unreasonably late or asks her to do something that is outside her scope of work, she should ask her employer to send her the instruction by email so she has written documentation directly to prove her claim.”
Ms AbdelJaber said that anyone claiming unfair dismissal should file a complaint at the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation or any Tas’heel service centres.
“If not resolved the dispute will be referred to the local courts, where the woman will have to register her claim for arbitrary dismissal either through a local law firm or by herself,” she said.
“She will then have to state her claim and present her arguments, witnesses and supporting documents to the local courts.”
In addition to compensation for arbitrary dismissal – when the reason for dismissal has nothing to do with work – any employee is entitled to outstanding payments such as end of service gratuity, airline tickets home and accrued annual leave.
Employers must provide an end-of-service certificate stating the total employment period, nature of work and final wage.
If the visa or work permit is not cancelled by the company, they may apply for a temporary work permit for six months at a ministry office until the case is resolved and a final judgment is issued.