The United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities have announced that for public-sector employees, the workweek will be reduced to four-and-a-half days, with the weekend running from Friday afternoon to Sunday. The new workweek applies in federal government departments as of Jan. 1. The authorities have also confirmed that all schools and universities will operate from Monday to Friday on a four-and-a-half work-day basis.
Do the Changes Extend to the Private Sector?
Officially, no. There have been no formal announcements from the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratization (MOHRE) that the changes will extend to the private sector, nor any indication that the shift to a Monday-Friday workweek will be formalized in an official circular. Private-sector employers are therefore not currently obliged to change their work patterns.
Potential Impact on the Private Sector?
Interestingly, this announcement for the public sector comes shortly after the recent enactment of the Federal Decree Law No. 33 of 2021, a new Labor Law in the UAE (the New Labor Law) which takes effect on Feb. 2. The New Labor Law no longer specifies Friday as being the weekly rest day for employees and therefore, private-sector employers will have the necessary flexibility to make changes to work patterns, as needed.
In light of this and given that operational hours for schools, universities and the courts will be restricted to work hours during Monday to Friday (and no longer Sunday) going forward, we expect the majority of private-sector employers will align their respective weekly work schedules to those within the public sector as of Jan. 1.
In the absence of a formal ruling or circular by MOHRE, our view is that we do not envisage many private-sector employers implementing a four-and-a-half day workweek in practice, and certainly not where a reduction in salary has not first been agreed to with the employee.
With the increased flexibility introduced under the New Labor Law, which acknowledges flexible worker roles, our view is that employers will shift toward a full five-day Monday to Friday workweek with flexibility for employees who wish to attend Friday congregational prayers, to work from home, remotely or be provided with an extended break to attend prayers. We have produced a summary of the New Labor Law, including a comparative overview of the key differences between the current Labor Law and the New Labor Law.
What Actions Need to Be Taken?
There are no actions for those employers that do not wish to change or reduce their workweek, as there is no corresponding legal obligation to do so.
However, for those employers (and we anticipate this will be the majority of companies in the private sector), who wish to adjust the workweek pattern for their employees to a Monday-Friday schedule and in some cases, may wish to implement adjustments to work hours or introduce remote work arrangements, the following should be considered:
Contractual and policy amendments. A change to the weekly work pattern is likely to constitute a change to the employee’s terms and conditions of employment and would need to be agreed to by the employee. This may require amendments to individual employment contracts and company policies to ensure employees’ respective work hours and work patterns are accurately reflected. In the UAE, the general principle is that changes to the employment contract must be agreed to between an employer and each affected employee and confirmed in writing.
Consultation and risks. While there is no strict obligation to consult with employees prior to introducing a contractual change, it may be prudent to consult from an employee relations perspective.
We would also flag that under the New Labor Law, it is prohibited to discriminate against an individual on the basis of religion and gender, among a number of other protected characteristics. Employers will therefore need to be mindful of this when considering remote work and extended rest break requests for Muslim employees who need to attend congregational prayers on a Friday, particularly in light of the UAE being an Islamic country and general public policy toward Friday prayers. Employers will also need to consider requests from employees who need to work remotely to facilitate child care or accommodate travel from schools, as the school day is expected to be a half day on Fridays as of Jan. 1.
If an employee refuses to agree to a change to work hours or adjustments to the weekly work schedule, the employer will need to consider whether it is appropriate to terminate the employment relationship and consider the basis for doing so under the New Labor Law.
Sarah Lawrence and Habib Saeed are attorneys with Squire Patton Boggs in Dubai, U.A.E., and Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. © 2022 Squire Patton Boggs. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.