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The COVID-19 journey so far – UAE

02 June 2020
The story so far for UAE during the COVID-19 pandemic and what returning to the workplace in the post-lockdown environment may look like.
On 19 March 2020, the UAE (consisting of seven emirates) closed its borders to the world upon the declaration by the World Health Organisation that COVID-19 was a global pandemic. On 5 April 2020, the Dubai Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced a twenty-four (24) hour lockdown and commenced the national disinfection programme to reduce the spread of infection. The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown has been far reaching and has forced the UAE Government to issue legislative emergency measures to provide relief and guidance to the business community.

During the COVID-19 precautionary measures period, the UAE Government introduced a variety of emergency measures that employers could adopt (with the employee's consent) (the "Precautionary Measures") which include; i) the reduction of working hours, ii) imposing annual leave with or without pay and iii) the reduction of remuneration on a temporary basis in an effort to limit the COVID-19 impact on business operations whilst preserving continuity of employment. The Dubai International Financial Centre ("DIFC"), an independent free zone in the UAE, issued a Presidential Directive which permits DIFC employers to introduce similar precautionary measures without the employee's consent for a defined period ending on 31 July 2020, unless extended or reduced by a legislative amendment. 

Various initiatives have been introduced by the UAE local authorities to alleviate the financial pressure on UAE employers, such as the reduction on licensing fees, discounts on retail and office space rent, refund of bank guarantees, suspension on visa renewal fees, and reduction of utility bills and municipality fees. Further, on 15 March 2020, the Target Economic Support Scheme was announced by the UAE Government, an initiative geared towards the provision of temporary financial relief from the payments of loans for all private sector companies impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

From lockdown to return to work
From 24 April 2020, the UAE Government announced a phased return to work and eased the lock down restrictions, however only permitting a maximum of 30% capacity (with the exemption of vital industries) of the workforce to attend the business premises in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 and as such, UAE employers are adjusting to the "new normal".  On 26 May 2020, the UAE entered into the next phase in which the permitted staffing level quota was extended to 50%. 

Some UAE employers re-opened and maximised the permitted quota; the majority, however, took a more conservative approach to returning to work and are still making the necessary preparations to ensure their premises are COVID-19 secure. From social distancing, health checks and hygiene measures, to major reconfigurations of workplaces and changes to daily working arrangements – the operational responsibilities and challenges are substantial.  
The UAE Government has announced that government sector employees will lead the way with respect to returning to work, with 100% capacity expected by mid-June 2020, which we anticipate will be followed by the private sector. 

The key message from the UAE Government is that despite the relaxation of the rules around lockdown, employees must adhere to health and safety guidelines as announced by the UAE Government from time to time, for example wearing mandatory face masks at all times. 

Rigorous risk assessments are key and must be conducted in accordance with health and safety legislation as well as recent Government guidance. Contracts, policies and procedures are being reviewed in light of the current climate, addressing issues such as homeworking, altered working patterns, IT and data security and disciplinary penalties for COVID-19 related misconduct.

To support employers with their return to work planning, we have prepared a step by step guide on the key measures and employment checklist. 

Please see our UAE employment checklist for a step by step guide on the key measures to consider >

Return to the global overview page to review the story so far in other locations >