March 18, 2020
In light of the ongoing Covid-19 workplace restrictions in place for the UAE, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emirates (MOHRE) has introduced a new initiative which will enable expatriates employees to take a period of leave from their employment in order to temporarily return to their home countries (Early Leave). The Early Leave is intended to last for the period of time that any Federal Covid-19 measures remain in place.
Early Leave is intended to expand on the existing measures available to employers under the recent Ministerial Resolution 279/2020 (Resolution), more information on which can be found here. The initiative was primarily introduced to address the increasing number of expatriate employees who have agreed to a period of unpaid leave with their employers under the new Resolution, and wish to retain their employment in the UAE, but are unable to remain in the UAE as a result of their temporary loss of income.
The Early Leave, which will require prior approval from MOHRE, can be utilised by the employee through using their existing annual leave balance and/or by agreement with the employer to be taken as a period of unpaid leave. If Early Leave is agreed, the employer will remain responsible for maintaining the employee’s other existing entitlements, throughout the period of Early Leave e.g. medical insurance.
The initiative will be available to all onshore private sector employees, provided the following requirements are complied with:
- Both the employer and employee will need to complete and sign a supplementary form available through the MOHRE website here (titled ‘temporary supplement’) and on the MOHRE app. The form must state the full leave duration, and will be temporarily appended to the employee’s MOHRE employment contract.
- The employer is obligated to arrange and fund a return travel ticket for the employee, which should be provided to MOHRE as evidence of the employee’s intention to return the country following the revocation of the COVID-19 measures.
MOHRE has advised that if the employee’s residence visa expires whilst the employee is out of the country on Early Leave, this will be automatically renewed on the employee’s behalf.
Crucially, employers should be aware that Early Leave is a temporary measure and accordingly the contractual relationship between the employee and employer must continue. Any period of Early Leave must end when the Covid-19 measures that are applicable to the workplace are lifted. Early Leave is not intended to be an avenue to make an employee redundant and if an employer were to terminate an employee during this authorised period of Early Leave, such a termination is likely to be considered arbitrary as dismissal while on leave is prohibited under the UAE Labour Law. A successful claim for arbitrary dismissal could see an employee being awarded up to three months’ full salary by the labour courts, together with any other unpaid termination payments.
Employers should check whether repatriation flights are available. We understand that a number of initiatives are underway and managed through consular initiatives with the UAE airlines.
We are currently awaiting further information from MOHRE on the practical implications of the initiative. We will provide further updates as and when they are received from MOHRE.