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02 September 2020
Companies based in Dubai should be aware of the likely cost and time implications of defending employment disputes in the courts, along with the applicable laws and processes.
Employers based in the United Arab Emirates are having to make difficult and unpopular decisions in relation to the structure and survival of their business in the current economic climate, making queries, complaints and formal claims from employees in respect of such measures inevitable.
When a complaint from an employee cannot be resolved and a formal claim is filed, the procedure that will be implemented will be affected by a number of variables – not least whether the employer is located in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), onshore mainland Dubai or another UAE free trade zone.
Regardless of the court system and procedure that will apply to the claim, companies will face certain obligations and financial costs. These costs can often be significant and rival, or even outweigh, the value of the claim itself. Claims often take several months or years to reach final judgment, so even relatively low-value claims have the potential to pose a significant financial risk to companies.
When faced with a dispute with an employee, it is imperative that companies take legal advice at an early stage. This will allow the company to understand its legal position, its prospects of success, the likely costs involved as the claim progresses and the options available. Armed with this information, the company can then put in place an appropriate strategy to resolve the issue in the most cost-efficient manner.
Wherever in Dubai the company is located, there are trends in relation to the types of employment dispute that employers are currently facing. This is often due to temporary or permanent measures put in place by employers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (eg, salary reductions, periods of unpaid leave and company restructuring). Measures such as these often lead to claims, including for:
The DIFC has its own employment law – the DIFC Employment Law (2/2019) as amended – and its own independent court process which is entirely separate and independent from the other courts in Dubai.
This means that, where a company is incorporated within the DIFC or where the employee is based or ordinarily works in the DIFC, any employment dispute would be subject to the DIFC Employment Law and the DIFC court process.
Courts in the DIFC
There are two potential courts where an employment claim may be heard in the first instance: the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) or the Court of First Instance (CFI). Both courts have their own processes and characteristics.
In the SCT:
In the CFI:
All UAE employment disputes outside the DIFC are governed by the UAE Labour Law 8/1980, which is ultimately enforced by the UAE's labour courts. All disputes with employers based in onshore Dubai and in all UAE free trade zones other than the DIFC will ultimately be resolved in accordance with the dispute provisions set out in the Labour Law.
Where a dispute with an employee exists which cannot be resolved within the employer's internal procedures, the employee must first file a complaint – either with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) if the employer is based in onshore Dubai or with the labour department of the free trade zone that the employer is located in. A representative of either MoHRE or the relevant free trade labour department will then try to settle the issue before a formal court process is instigated.
How this conciliatory stage is carried out will vary between MoHRE and the free trade zones. For example, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre has a mediation service using trained mediators in place.
If the dispute is not settled within two weeks of the original complaint being filed, MoHRE or the relevant free trade labour department is then required by the Labour Law to refer the matter to the labour courts through a transfer letter. This letter allows the employee to proceed with their claim if they choose to. However, they must do so within six months of the transfer letter being issued.
Once a case proceeds to the labour courts, certain appointments will be scheduled by the court with a series of written pleadings required to be filed surrounding these. Given the limited rights of hearing in the labour courts and the complicated nature of many claims, employers are often advised to instruct legal counsel to act on their behalf during this process.
Once the court has considered all of the written submissions that it considers necessary, it will provide its judgment on the case in both oral and written form. Either party may then appeal this judgment if they so wish.
Costs and timing
Notwithstanding the legal merits of any claim, the costs and management time required to defend a claim through to judgment is often the factor that will determine an employer's approach when responding to an employment dispute.
Where a claim proceeds to the labour courts, employers will face the following costs:
For further information on this topic please contact Luke Tapp or Michael Chattle at Pinsent Masons by telephone (+971 4 373 9700) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). The Pinsent Masons website can be accessed at www.pinsentmasons.com.
The materials contained on this website are for general information purposes only and are subject to the disclaimer.
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