The COVID-19 pandemic has already been officially named as a lethal disease that has managed to put the entire world population into emergency. So, it’s perfectly normal that it generates a lot of concern in companies and their employees. This article will answer some questions related to legal obligations that will surely help you protect your company along with all personnel.
What duties do employers have regarding the virus?
Although some companies were asked to suspend or limit their activities for a time. The MoHRE published new instructions in this regard. Since March 29 of this year, and the regulations will be that no more than 30% of the staff may be present at their workplace and the other 70% will work remotely from home.
But some branches, such as construction, telecommunications, banking, energy, are not obliged to comply with this regulation. Even so, there are a series of requirements that must be met at the time of carrying out their daily tasks.
The detailed COVID-19 regulations that are issued with their respective suggestions are constantly changing. Government authorities sometimes have to make decisions that are published by the media and their agencies. Of course, sometimes there are certain delays in written communications of resolutions that are made so that they can be made available to the public.
Regardless of the standards issued for COVID-19, employers must ensure the protection of their workers and comply with the global health and safety instructions set forth by the UAE regulations.
Each employer that is governed by Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 related to the Regulation of Labor Relations, has the responsibility of providing its personnel with the necessary protective materials to avoid occupational injuries and illnesses that may occur in the workplace.
Companies with established branches in the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) or Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), have the responsibility to provide safety, health and well-being to all their workers, within reason.
Legal duties regarding health and safety are important with regard to COVID-19 as they require employers to ensure that work environments are free from hazards and that precautions are taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and thus workers feel protected.
Companies must assess the latent dangers and consider that employees may become infected. Companies are encouraged to train their staff regarding COVID-19. It’s suggested as a minimum that:
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
• Store used tissues in the container as quickly as possible.
• Wash your hands with soap and water periodically using alcohol disinfectant.
• Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouths without washing your hands.
• Maintain physical social distancing.
• Greet each other without hugs, kisses or hands.
• Inform workers about the latest instructions from the authorities, and indicate where to find more information about it.
In the UAE, companies and their staff are being encouraged to work as a team to create alternatives that can reduce the impact on business activities, employee salaries and customer service.
The MOHRE encouraged companies to implement the necessary precautions, such as public health instructions, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces, provide disinfectants and sterilization products that are accessible to workers at their workplace, home, and in transportation. Importance was also given to the need to disinfect transport vehicles on a daily basis.
It was also suggested that if any employee exhibits COVID-19 symptoms they should immediately notify the appropriate authorities.
What rights do companies have in relation to pandemic?
MOHRE enacted Ministerial Decision No. 279 of 2020 that gives guidance to private sector companies that protects workers during the UAE government establishing precautionary measures to stop the spread of the virus. This decision applies to all companies registered with MOHRE and to national non-UAE employees.
Companies that are overworked have to store their data in a virtual labor market system that allows workers to rotate with other companies. Even so, the company has the obligation to pay for all the rights of its worker (which includes salary and benefits) until they get the temporary status, the authorization to work in another company, or they’re leaving the country or their job. The decision doesn’t give the company the power to complete the workers’ work with a limited notice period.
What actions can companies take to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
a) Carry out your activities from home.
b) Provide paid leave to workers, so they must take their annual leave.
c) Give unpaid leave.
d) Decrease the salary temporarily.
e) Reduce salary permanently.
Companies have a problem; and is that actions c-d-e necessarily require the approval of workers. For the Temporary Salary Decrease The parties must sign a temporary additional appendix on a form established by MOHRE.
A permanent pay cut still requires normal amendments to the MOHRE registered employment contract.
Can a company request information from a worker regarding whether it is exposed to COVID-19?
The privacy rules that apply to the UAE must first be considered.
So far, there is no rule that prevents a company from requiring travel or health information from a worker, such as asking an employee to mention where he was and how exposed he was to the virus.
Given the US Labor Law, each company has a duty to provide a safe work environment for its workers. It can be said that searching for information to determine how exposed an employee has been to the virus is an essential part of protecting their health, safety and well-being.
Personnel have the responsibility to obey your company’s instructions or any reasonable information requested. The organization has the right to carry out any sanction in the event that its employee does not obey the instructions.
The company may also require its staff to specifically state where they were recently, in order to subject the entire team to a risk assessment.
The enterprise may also carry out any medical examination of its workers to rule out any virus transmission, in order to require a medical certificate confirming the employee’s current state of health.
You can also request information about the medical record of the staff, only this will fall under the responsibility of the data protection laws. But it would be advisable to first obtain the written permission of the authorizing worker.
The data related to the health of a worker is something personal and confidential, and for this reason it’s managed according to the privacy regulations that apply to it. However, as to the location of an employee and the degree of exposure he had to the deadly virus, it isn’t something that should be considered strictly confidential.
Until now, in the UAE there is no data protection standard, except for the ADGM and DIFC, which do have their own data protection standards.
The UAE Constitution and the UAE Penal Code safeguard the worker’s right to secrecy and protection of his personal and family life.
There are also regulations in the Cybercrime Law and the Telecommunications Law that are used to demand privacy. Therefore, it’s suggested that companies obtain the approval of their workers to collect, manage and transfer personal information and establish rules for their protection.
What duty does the company have when its personnel are absent or infected with COVID-19?
Competent agencies regularly update the rules on what a worker must do to isolate or quarantine him.
To cite an example, as of March 17, 2020, travelers arriving in the UAE must self-submit to 14 days of mandatory quarantine or they will legally proceed against them. This is based on a law that sanctions anyone who neglects and negligently spreads a disease that damages public health.
As of March 19, 2020, UAE stated that for two weeks UAE residents, except for UAE citizens, won’t be able to enter the country.
Every company has the right to require its staff to remain retired from the workplace, especially if they have visited a particular country.
When should someone in the EAU be quarantined or isolated?
While these changes were being made, people in the UAE were asked to isolate themselves and quarantine only if:
- Tested positive for the COVID-19 virus
- He visited a country with a high risk of contagion and is asymptomatic.
- You had contact with someone infected and your current greeting status has not been confirmed.
So far there are no instructions in the UAE forcing a company to pay a worker who self-isolates and is not officially ill. In theory, if a worker isn’t sick, no sick pay will be made.
The employment contract must stipulate what’s related to the emergency license and unpaid leave, but normally there’s no legal obligation to pay a worker for not going to the workplace for having been in contact with an infected with COVID- 19 or have visited high risk places.
However, companies must take into account the ability to classify non-attendance for self-isolation due to contagion of illness or pay the worker his corresponding salary.
It’s suggested to the company that, if the absence is caused by a business trip, find employment contracts where it’s possible to be more flexible with the workers who are experiencing this situation. How to let staff work remotely from home if the type of work allows.
An agreement could be reached with the worker to take their annual paid vacation or allow them to obtain an unpaid leave.
If the worker can work remotely from home while in isolation, there would be no reason for him to stop receiving his salary under normal conditions. The agreements between the company and its personnel must be in writing and be duly signed by all involved.
If the worker works in a warehouse or factory, where his presence at the place of employment is strictly necessary, and cannot work remotely from his home, then the company isn’t obligated to pay the individual a salary, while found in a state of self-isolation.
Therefore, companies are encouraged to be considerate and flexible with staff who may be infected to stay at home, so that the work environment remains clean and contagious.