Following recent guidance issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), we have compiled a checklist of issues for UAE employers to consider and address in response to the global outbreak of COVID-19.
Preparing your business
- Remind employees that they should only rely on information from official sources, such as the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention or the WHO
- Keep abreast of WHO and UAE government advice and communicate this to employees
- Update contact details and emergency contact details held for all employees
- Develop a plan of what to do if an employee becomes ill with suspected COVID-19. The plan should:
- cover putting the sick employee in a room or area where they are isolated from others in the workplace
- limit the number of people who have contact with the sick employee
- establish a procedure for reporting the suspected case of COVID-19 to the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, the Department of Health Abu Dhabi or the Dubai Health Authority
- establish a procedure for identifying employees who may be at risk (e.g. employees who have travelled to an area reporting cases, or other employees who have existing conditions that put them at a higher risk of serious illness), and providing support to those employees
- Encourage and facilitate working from home arrangements, whilst also considering:
- whether any employers' liability insurance cover would cover a personal injury sustained by an employee whilst working from home
- what measures need to be put in place to protect the business's confidential information and employees' and customers' personal data
- whether any special IT equipment (e.g. video conferencing facilities) needs to be installed at the employee's home to enable the employee to work effectively and safely
- how the employee will be supervised whilst working from home
- how to record the arrangements clearly and in writing
- Develop a contingency and business continuity plan to ensure that normal business can be maintained in the event that a significant number of employees cannot attend work due to travel restrictions or because they are sick
Preventing COVID-19 from spreading
- Ensure that all workplaces are clean and hygienic and that surfaces (e.g. desks, tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) are wiped with disinfectant regularly
- Promote and facilitate regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, contractors and customers (e.g. install sanitising hand-rub dispensers in prominent places, display posters promoting hand-washing, regular briefings to employees)
- Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace (e.g. display posters promoting respiratory hygiene and make facemasks, paper tissues and closed bins available and accessible to all employees)
- Assess the benefits and risks of holding events involving large gatherings of people
- Educate employees - do they know the symptoms of COVID-19? Do employees know what to do if they develop these symptoms?
- Consult professional travel advice before any employees embark on business travel. Many governments have taken immigration-related measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 - in the UAE, all citizens and foreign nationals will be required to use their passports (as opposed to ID cards) for entry into the UAE and smart gate entry services in UAE airports have been suspended temporarily
- Advise employees to consult professional travel advice before they embark on personal foreign travel – many Middle Eastern countries are denying entry to foreign nationals who have recently travelled to China, Iran and other countries experiencing significant outbreaks
- Assess the benefits and risks of any upcoming business travel
- Ensure that all persons travelling to locations reporting COVID-19 are briefed by a qualified health professional
- Encourage employees who are travelling to carry a small bottle (under 100cl) of alcohol-based hand rub to facilitate regular washing
- Encourage employees who have a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) to stay at home and self-isolate
COVID-19-related absence from work
UAE employers should consider how they would deal with the following scenarios:
- Employee refuses to attend work for fear of contracting COVID-19
- Employee fails to attend work because a relative has shown symptoms of COVID-19
- Employee refuses to travel abroad for business for fear of contracting COVID-19
- Employee refuses to work from home
- Employee who requests time off to care for their children as a result of the closure of their school or nursery
How an employer ultimately deals with each of these scenarios will depend on the circumstances of each individual case and, in particular, where the employer is based (i.e. in the DIFC, the ADGM or elsewhere in the UAE) and which employment law applies to them.
We therefore recommend that employers proactively establish a policy for dealing with COVID-19-related absence from work, thereby ensuring that these types of scenarios are dealt with consistently, compassionately and efficiently.
UAE employers who have any questions about the impact of COVID-19 on their workplace or how to deal with specific situations arising out of the outbreak, should contact our GCC employment team.