Ruth Stephen tells HRNews about mandatory Covid testing in force in some UAE business sectors

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    Mandatory Covid testing is now in force in the UAE for some private sector businesses. The directive was announced by the region’s Ministry of Human Resources and means employees of companies operating across five business sectors who have not taken the Covid-19 vaccine will be required to undergo a mandatory PCR test every 14 days. The directive affects hotels, restaurants, transportation, health as well as a number of social and individual activities related to laundries, beauty salons and barbershops. Workers who test positive for Covid-19 will be required to follow all UAE’s treatment and isolation requirements. The Ministry’s circular communicating the new rules urged all private sector employers to encourage their staff to receive both doses of an approved Covid-19 vaccine ‘as early as possible’. The UAE has delivered over 10 million doses of the vaccine to date, at no charge to the public.

    Clearly this is important news for employers in the region and Ruth Stephen has been commenting on it for Outlaw. She points out that whilst unvaccinated government sector employees have been subject to a similar testing obligation since February – requiring a PCR test every seven days - this is the first time private sector employers have been targeted. So, let’s hear more about it. Ruth joined me by video-link from Dubai to discuss it:

    Ruth Stephen: “So at the end of last month the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, the Ministry as its otherwise known, it released this new circular and what is significant about this circular is that it applies specifically to the private sector and the mandatory vaccination of employees in various sectors, further to which a PCR test, a negative one, needs to be shown every 14 days. Prior to that the instructions from the Ministry only related to public sector or government sector companies. So, this is potentially a start of a trend of something new that we're going to see and just the other week, even more recently, we have seen the introduction of mandatory PCR testing for unvaccinated employees apply to universities and school teaching staff. So, we do foresee that this is only going to expand and progress with time.”

    Joe Glavina: “What about those employees who don’t consent to this testing requirement Ruth. Presumably that would be an issue for employers?”

    Ruth Stephen: “So it's a very good question and something that a lot of our clients have been asking us. The starting position is that employers cannot mandate or require that employees are vaccinated. It is an individual’s choice and your private life and your individual responsibilities and choices are very protected here under various different pieces of legislation, so that's the starting point. However, as part of an employer's duty under the labour law to protect the health and safety of their employees, encouraging employees to be vaccinated, or have a test if they're unvaccinated, in a timely fashion, whether that's weekly or bi-weekly, is something that could potentially form part of that overarching obligation therefore there is a bit of a tension there. Also, depending on what sort of role the employee performs, how close contact they are with their colleagues or the customers or the public, that will really have an influence as to whether it would be a reasonable instruction for the employer to strongly encourage the employees to be vaccinated. If an employee does have a legitimate reason for which they cannot be vaccinated, for example a medical reason, maybe an employer should get this verified by Occupational Health so that they have that documented and uncovered off by a professional, or else if an employee is just not cooperating and not following a reasonable instruction it could be grounds to initiate a disciplinary with the employee.”

    Ruth goes into more detail on all those points in her article ‘Mandatory Covid testing in force in some UAE business sectors’. That is available now on the Outlaw website.

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    - Link to article ‘Mandatory Covid testing in force in some UAE business sectors’