Out-Law Analysis | 23 Mar 2021 | 11:14 am | 2 min. read
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is now providing vaccination against Covid-19 to all residents for free, leading employers in the region to consider how this fits in with their return to work plans.
There have been some policy and regulatory updates to encourage companies to get their employees to take the vaccine. However, there is no law in the UAE requiring vaccination, or regulating whether or not an employer can impose a vaccination requirement as a condition of employment.
Whether and to what extent an employer can encourage staff to take the vaccine will always depend on the particular circumstances of the company. In particular the company's sector, the nature of the business, exposure to the public, the office arrangements and, of course, the particular role of the employee are some of the most important features to consider when developing any internal policies on this very sensitive and important topic.
There is no UAE federal law requiring vaccination. The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) has also confirmed that vaccination is not mandatory.
The UAE has been incredibly proactive in relation to the procurement and distribution of Covid19 vaccines to the residents and citizens of the UAE. Whether and to what extent employers are able to encourage staff to take the vaccine will always depend on the particular circumstances of the company
The requirement to have a weekly PCR test does not currently apply to staff who are working from home and not attending office premises and mixing with other colleagues. Fines for non-compliance start at AED 2,000 (approx. $554) and are applied against the employer, not the individual employees.
Every UAE employer is subject to a legal duty to protect the health and safety of their employees while at work. They are also subject to regional laws requiring them to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, including Covid-19.
Similarly, employees are subject to legal duties to abide by reasonable instructions issued by the employer for the purposes of health and safety.
Whether or not a request by an employer for an employee to be vaccinated is a 'reasonable instruction' will depend on a range of factors including the nature of the workplace, the type of work and the individual employee's circumstances. For example, an instruction requiring employees working in healthcare settings, or in close contact with the public, to be vaccinated is more likely to be reasonable given the risks associated with this kind of work.
Where a vaccination requirement is reasonable, but an employee refuses to be vaccinated, employers will have to carefully consider the reasonableness of the refusal. There could be the risk of a discrimination claim where the employee's reason for not receiving the vaccine is connected to an underlying disability or health condition, pregnancy or religious beliefs.
However, there will be scenarios in which employers can treat staff differently depending on their vaccination status. Vaccinated staff may be given particular duties or invited to travel or participate in particular activities depending on the nature of the business. It may also be reasonable for partner organisations, particularly government entities, to impose a vaccination requirement on staff who are outsourced or work in close contact with them.
On a practical level, there are a number of actions that employers can take to encourage their staff to be vaccinated and to make it as easy as possible for them to attend.
Some employers have arranged for groups of staff to receive the vaccine in their place of work. Where this is not practical employers could allow staff to attend their vaccination appointment during the working day, or provide an afternoon's paid leave to attend both appointments and, potentially, recover from any side effects.
Employers should also consider using internal communications channels to raise awareness of the benefits of vaccination and any associated workplace policies, for example with regards to time off.
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