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Global employment briefing: United Arab Emirates, February 2017

  • UAE
  • Employment law


Changes to the UAE Penal Code – implications for employers and employees

The UAE Penal Code has had a substantial rewrite recently courtesy of Federal Law No. 7 of 2016. Many of the changes involve increasing the penalties for existing crimes but there are some significant new crimes too. Some of the key changes which UAE employers should be aware of include:

  • Mandatory deportation – all felonies now incur a mandatory deportation order for expatriates residing in the UAE. Deportation for misdemeanours remains at the judge’s discretion.
  • Deportation for strike action – notwithstanding that collective action involving 3 or more employees walking out or “working to rule” may be classed a misdemeanour, any such guilty expatriate employee will now be deported. It is therefore important that employers and employees maintain a productive dialogue to resolve workplace disputes. Trade unions are not permitted in the UAE and so parties to a dispute should instead use the Ministry of Labour (or the applicable free zone authority) as their escalation point.
  • Failing to report a crime – any person who becomes aware of a crime and fails to report it now risks a prison sentence of up to one year. This new provision has a number of consequences in an employment context. In particular, employers should be wary of reaching a private settlement with employees in regard to potential criminal conduct in the workplace, as any such arrangement could result in criminal sanctions being imposed upon the employer. We recommend that UAE employers always seek legal advice before conducting any formal disciplinary process in the UAE.
  • Data leaks – employees copying and/or distributing data (including phone calls and messages) otherwise than in accordance with the lawful order of their employer can now be imprisoned. This offence overlaps with similar cybercrime provisions and demonstrates a clear intention of the authorities to safeguard personal and sensitive information, however, its scope extends beyond computers. Employees should be reminded of their duty of confidentiality and employers may also wish to review their data protection policies and protocols to guard against infringement.
  • Stiffer penalties for drinking alcohol – the maximum fines for drinking alcohol without satisfying certain conditions and for eating in public places during the holy month of Ramadan have increased drastically from AED 2,000 to AED 10,000 but the definitions of the crimes are unaffected. Illegal alcohol consumption can also be punished by a prison sentence of at least six months. Non-Muslim employees can reduce the risk of infringing the law by obtaining an alcohol licence (for which they will require salary certificates from their employer). This is worth bearing in mind when arranging staff social functions.

The changes underline the continued value placed upon respect for religion, individual privacy and public order in the UAE and individuals who practice the same values shouldn’t fall foul of the law.