*Disclaimer: Given the speed at which new laws, regulations and policies have been implemented to control the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that the responses below will be impacted.*
Has vaccination been made mandatory in your jurisdiction?
No. The COVID vaccination in the UAE is optional (although it is highly encouraged), and currently there are no laws that would mandate the vaccination.
Note, however, that since August 20, 2021, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has introduced a “green pass” system, whereby entry to public places (such as retail outlets (including those not within shopping centers), gyms, recreational facilities and sporting events, health clubs, resorts, museums, cultural centers, theme parks, universities, institutes, public and private schools and nurseries in the emirate) will be limited to those who are fully vaccinated (i.e. have received 2 doses of the vaccine), as evidenced by their green status on the Al Hosn app.
Can an employer require compulsory vaccination? If yes, are there any exceptions or special circumstances that an employer must consider?
No. To date, the UAE government has not made any announcement making it mandatory for the citizens and residents of UAE to be vaccinated. Therefore, an employer may not mandate vaccination for its employees currently. However, it is worth noting the provisions of Federal Law No. (27) of 1981 Concerning Communicable Disease Prevention ("the Prevention of Communicable Disease Law"), and Cabinet Resolution No. (17) of 2020 Regulating the Violations of Precautionary Measures and Instructions and Duties Imposed to Curb the Spread of Novel Coronavirus ("the Cabinet Resolution") are applicable.
Article 22 (1) of the Prevention of Communicable Disease Law, states: "...the Ministry may issue an announcement to be published in the Official Gazette and other media, specifying the infected area and compelling any person in the area to receive mandatory vaccination and immunisation for the prevention of the disease.” Article 1 (1) of the Cabinet Resolution, states: “A natural or legal person shall not violate the precautionary and preventive measures and instructions and duties regarding health and safety preservation in order to control the risk of spread of Covid-19". If vaccination does become mandatory in the future, the remit of any new laws would have to be reviewed, before advising on the labor law implications. Separately, for information, note that on 5 January 2021, the Federal Authority for Human Resources ("FAHR") released a circular which provides that all UAE government public sector employees, effective from 24 January 2021, must perform PCR tests every 7 days at their own expense even if they are vaccinated. Exempted employees include those who can prove that they are ineligible to take the vaccine.
FAHR issued Circular No.3 of 2021 which is relevant to the public sector. Nevertheless, this might be of relevance to any individual/private company who is required to attend public sector premises. The following will apply:
- Employees of outsourcing, public services, companies, etc. contracted by federal government entities, must conduct PCR tests for their employees who are or will be present on a daily basis at the entity's workplace, every 7 days, at the expense of those contracted companies, with the exception of employees who have received the two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Employees of consulting firms, think tanks, etc. in the event of contracting with these companies by the federal entities, and if their employees are required to visit the federal entity's workplace, must have a PCR result valid for no more than 3 days if not vaccinated and if vaccinated must be able to show “E” on the AlHosn Application
The Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (“ADDED”) issued Circular No. 12 of 2021 stating that employees in the private sector in Abu Dhabi are now expected to obtain PCR tests once every two weeks, in order to enter their employer’s registered workplace. Additionally, there is no exemption for individuals who have been vaccinated or who are unable to get vaccinated; in other words, the requirement to get tested now extends to all employees, regardless of vaccination status or underlying health conditions. Please note that the PCR test is provided free of charge in certain hospitals/centers. Failure to comply with these new regulations is punishable by a fine of AED 50,000 for the employer and AED 5,000 for the employee.
Note that the above-ADDED rule is not applicable to employees based in Dubai (who are not currently required to undergo PCR testing every two weeks in order to attend the office), although employers may require regular PCR testing to ensure a safe work environment.
Can employees refuse to be vaccinated? How does an employer need to balance its obligation to provide a safe work environment with an employee’s rights?
Employees can refuse to be vaccinated and employers have limited options in this regard, as vaccination is not currently mandated (although legal powers have been put in place to be triggered should the government deem it necessary to mandate mass vaccination of the population – see above at question 1). We do not recommend that employers introduce a contractual requirement for vaccination as employees have the option to refuse it. We do not recommend employers bring disciplinary proceedings against employees that refuse vaccination as they may bring a claim under the applicable local labor law (noting that there are different jurisdictions within the UAE, which each have their own applicable employment laws and regulations).
It is also worth mentioning that the capacity in the offices in Abu Dhabi’s private companies is 60%.
Can employers require the wearing of masks in the workplace?
Yes, employers shall require the wearing of face masks in the workplace. It is worth mentioning that all employers are required to provide face masks to employees when in the workplace and to ensure that those face masks are changed regularly. On the basis that UAE residents have a corresponding obligation to wear face masks in public, companies have adopted a lenient/passive approach to complying with their duties under the guidelines related to the face masks requirements: rather than actively handing out face masks and gloves to each employee, employers place a sufficient amount of them in common areas and employees can utilize them whenever needed.
However, the UAE recently announced the relaxing of rules regarding the wearing of face masks after a significant decline in Covid-19 infection rates. Face Masks are no longer required in the following situations:
- When exercising outside;
- In the office when alone and not surrounded by others;
- At the beach or by the pool;
- While in the car with people from the same household;
- While alone in an indoor place;
- If in a barber shop or salon; and
- While undergoing diagnosis and treatment at medical centers.
- Anyone who suffers from sensory triggering as a result of mask use;
Moreover, several categories of people are exempt from wearing face masks. These include:
- Disabled people who suffer from cognitive, intellectual, or sensory disorders that prevent them from being able to breathe or communicate normally;
- Anyone who requires supplemental oxygen or suffers from severe respiratory issues, or struggles to breathe with a mask on.
A medical report confirming the above health conditions shall be produced to obtain an exemption.
Failure to comply with the requirement of wearing a face mask may result in a fine worth AED 3,000.
In the event of a refusal, can an employee be dismissed for refusal to comply with the employer’s vaccination policy? Will the employee’s refusal constitute just cause for termination?
As mentioned above, we do not recommend any disciplinary proceedings or recommend termination of employees in the event of a refusal. The employee’s refusal will not constitute just cause for termination as it is not mandated by law and in order to terminate an employee under Article 117 of the UAE Labour Law (for example), an employer may terminate an employee with notice as per their contract (minimum of 30 days and maximum 3 months) for a “valid reason”. While the term “valid reason” is not defined under the law, any reason must be work-related for example, poor performance, after having followed the minimum statutory disciplinary process. In the event the employer decides to terminate the employee for refusing to vaccinate, then the employee may bring a claim under the UAE Labour Law and may be awarded up to 3 months’ compensation for arbitrary dismissal.
What benefits or accommodations do employers have to make for vaccinated employees?
Can vaccinated employees refuse to work in the same vicinity as employees who are not vaccinated?
In your country, are employers required to provide paid leave for employees to get vaccinated?
No, not by law, however, employers can decide on their own policies in this regard. Employees can be encouraged to take the vaccine in their spare time or on weekends, to limit the disruption to work, to the extent possible.
Al Tamimi & Company