Employees in the UAE (private sector) – Which rights are they entitled to?

Employees in the UAE (private sector) – Which rights are they entitled to?


Federal Law No. 8, for 1980, on Regulation of Labour Relations – the UAE Labour Law – has given employees’ rights in relation to their employment including how they may be disciplined, dismissed, how their grievances are handled, wages, absence from work and sickness, holidays, work breaks and working hours, and maternity leave.

In this article, we provide a brief review on the main rights of the employees working in the UAE, in the private sector.

(Employment contracts for public sector are governed by Cabinet Decision No. 13 of 2012 regarding Executive Rules for Decree under Law No. 11 of 2008). 

Employees Rights

By law, all workers are entitled to several rights that have been carefully entrusted to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly by their employers. These rights are called the employees’ statutory rights.

While statutory rights form the basis for fair treatment in the workplace, the specific employee rights may vary slightly depending on the type of job one is hired to do and the arrangement with the employer along with a few other variables. The employees’ exact rights at work will ultimately be derived from a combination of their statutory rights and their employment contracts.

Statutory Rights

Below are some of the employees’ rights contained within the UAE Labour Law:

  • Employment contracts must be in writing. As per visa sponsorship application process requirement, employees must execute the UAE labour contract, as issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) or applicable free zone authority, which is in Arabic and English.  
  • In the case of disputes, the MoHRE relies solely on the Arabic version of the employment contract. Therefore, the employees should try to ensure that both versions are an exact match.
  • An employment contract shall specify the date of its conclusion, the date on which work is to begin, the type and place of the work, the duration of the contract (if definite) and the amount of the wage.
  • The employer cannot make illegal deductions from the employees’ wages.
  • Employees cannot be forced to work more than an average of 8 hours a day and 48 hours a week unless they agree to put in additional working hours and confirm this in writing.
  • Employees have the right to daily and weekly rest breaks. No worker shall work for more than 5 successive hours without breaks (for rest, meals and prayer), amounting in aggregate to not less than 1 hour; Friday is the normal weekly rest for all workers, except the daily-paid.
  • Employers have a legal obligation to take care of the health and safety of their employees by providing a clean environment to work in, first aid equipment, protective clothing, drinking water and washing facilities and ensuring all machinery is safe.
  • Employees have the right to a certain amount of paid holiday each year (two days for each month should the period of service of the worker be more than six months and less than one year; 30 days for each year should the period of service of the worker exceed one year).
  • Employees are also entitled for paid leave on the following public holidays:
  • Hijri New Year – 1 day
  • Gregorian New Year – 1 day
  • Eid Al Fitr – 2 days
  • Waqfa day and Eid Al Adha – 3 days
  • Prophet Mohammed’s birthday – 1 day
  • Isra and Miraj or the Ascension Day – 1 day
  • Commemoration or Martyr’s Day – 1 day
  • National Day – 1 day.
  • Each worker shall be entitled to his basic wage and the housing allowance, if applicable, in respect of his days of annual leave.
  • Female workers are entitled to maternity leave with full pay for a period of 45 days including both pre and post-natal periods, provided that she has completed not less than one year of continuous service with her employer; a female worker who has not completed the aforesaid period of service shall be entitled to maternity leave with half pay.
  • None of the disciplinary measures may be imposed on a worker until he has been notified in writing of the charges against him/her, heard and allowed to have one’s defence investigated, and until all this has been entered in a special minutes to be placed in the personal file, with the penalty mentioned at the end of such minutes.  
  • Fixed-term workers have the same contractual rights as permanent employees in similar roles.
  • Part-time workers have the same contractual rights as full-time employees in similar roles. However, entitlements to holidays and similar rights for part-time workers may be calculated on a pro rata basis. There are no specific number of hours that differentiates a part time worker from a full time worker. It would vary from one company to another. Which category the employee comes under will be stated in his/her contract or job description.

Contractual Employee Rights

There might be some rights that are set out in the terms and conditions of the employment terms or contract, other than those required by law. These are known as contractual employee rights.

The terms of the contract may vary the terms of the employment and may grant the employee additional rights beyond the minimums stablished by the UAE Labour Law. For example, an employer may offer a longer maternity leave at full pay. However, this is not obligatory by law and is at the discretion of the employer.

An important point to note regarding contractual rights is that an employment contract can offer the employee additional rights but they cannot offer fewer rights than those offered by the law. In other words, contracts of employment cannot forcefully restrict the legal rights.

Once the terms of the employment contract have been agreed upon, employers must abide by them. If they do not, they could be held liable for breach of contract.

Disabled Employee Rights

Under the Ministerial Decree No. 43 of 2018, published on 13 August 2018, employers cannot discriminate against employees at any stage if they are suffering from any type of physical or mental disability. If the employee is suitably qualified for the job and an employer is aware of his/her disability, they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to ensure access to all the facilities as employees who are not disabled so these employees are not serious disadvantaged when doing their job.

Reasonable adjustments may include removing physical barriers that limit employees’ movements, installing an audio-visual alarm for a deaf employee or a ramp for a wheelchair user, providing a special keyboard if they arthritis or offering additional training opportunities if necessary.

The new law establishes that employment cannot be terminated for reasons of the employee’s disability.

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