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COVID-19: Returning to Work

COVID-19: Returning to Work

04 Jun 2020
COVID-19: Returning to Work

The UAE Government is easing the restrictions to restart economic activity.
 
With the opening of a number of business sectors, there is an expectation that the economic conditions will be enhanced. Businesses should therefore ensure that the health and safety of employees is appropriately protected during this period. 
 
If an employee presents a legitimate concern in respect of returning to work, we recommend that employers listen to employee's concerns and ponder whether the company may assist the employee's request. Should an alternative arrangement be agreed, that should be documented in writing and signed by both parties.
 
If an employee refuses to return to work without a reasonable reason, this could be considered an unauthorised absence. Employees should be contacted regularly and advised that failure to return to work may lead to a disciplinary sanction. We advise that legal advice is sought on a case by case basis prior to taking any disciplinary action.
 
During the lockdown, employees' salaries were reduced. There is no legal obligation to increase salaries upon an employee's return to work. However, this decision will be contingent on what was agreed with the employee in respect of the salary reduction - whether this is in the context of the guidelines issued by a regional government or agreed between employer and employee.
 
If the employees were informed that the salary reduction would be temporary, the salary reduction cannot be enforced permanently. Still, subject always to employee agreement, the salary can be maintained at the reduced rate after returning to work.
 
The UAE authorities recently approved several regulations concerning non-government companies administering Covid-19 testing:
 

The UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) stated that employers should carry out measures to safeguard the employees working at their premises, including the following:

  • Provide screening devices on the premises to take employee temperature and check symptoms twice a day.
  • Suspected cases should be referred to the health authorities and should be prohibited from going to work or entering staff accommodation.
The DED has also introduced a similar protocol for all businesses which includes a requirement to ensure that anyone entering a building or office including staff and guests must undergo temperature screening and checks.
 
Whilst both the MOHRE and DED protocol may not directly apply to certain companies (for example, those who are based in a free zone), most free zone authorities are adopting similar measures. 
 
If an employee refuses to consent to testing, they should be refused entry. 
 
What should employers do to protect its employees? 
 
1. Identification of employees who are in high risk categories and/or those who have a direct family member with whom they live who may be in a high risk category;
2. Organising break times so that communal areas are not overcrowded;
3. Schedule staff attendance e.g. days in the office or start and end times in the office;
4. Providing masks and gloves for employees to wear at work;
5. Explaining the rules surrounding communal areas, for example the storage of food in the fridge;
6. Providing hand sanitisers, tissues, and washing facilities as well as disinfectant sprays so that desks can be cleaned;
7. Exhibiting signs regarding good hygiene practices and best practice re prevention of the spread of Covid-19; 
8. Deep cleaning of premises and sanitisation of the office, workspaces and communal areas; and
9. Restricting the number of people in a lift at any one time.
 
Visitors should limited, with any attendance being recorded to ensure that capacity levels are meticulously checked. 
 
The UAE Supreme Committee of Crisis Disaster Management announced that daily sterilisation of the workplace is mandatory and employees and guests should be provided with sanitisers at all times. 
 
What HR Departments should implement: 
a) Ensure everyone's contact numbers and emergency contact details are updated;
b) Assign a coordinator or team to prepare plans and monitor the compliance with official advice;
c) Continue to communicate as the situation changes;
d) Ensure all staff are aware of your response as an employer;
e) Check that managers are well informed on how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes (e.g., sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case an employee is infected);
f) HR policies and handbooks should be reviewed and updated with respect to new procedures; 
g) Ensure that all potential incidents are being reported to HR so they can understand the overall risk to the business; and
h) Make sure there is a designated place for people should they fall ill at work.
 
For further insight on the above, please contact Helena

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