1. What options do employers have and/or what are you seeing in terms of re-opening the workplace e.g. phased returns, rotating shifts, staggered working hours, etc.?
Qatar has started implementing an overarching master plan for the gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, which will take place in four phases. phase 1 commenced on 15 June 2020, phase 2 began on 1 July 2020, phase 3 will commence on 1 August 2020, and phase 4 will commence on 1 September. Currently, under phase 2, shopping malls, souks and wholesale markets are open with restricted capacity and hours. Restaurants are open with restricted low capacity, and museums and libraries are open with restricted hours and capacity. Business opening hours are from 7am to 8pm.
Private-sector businesses have been allowed to open under phase 2 with 50% of the workforce attending the office, and with strict health precautions.
Small-scale meetings, gatherings and professional training groups of up to five people are permitted under phase 2.
Leisure activities will be permitted with the opening of some venues, parks, corniche, beaches and some sports clubs.
There is currently a restriction on children under the age of 12 year and adults who are over 60 from entering malls. There is no specific prohibition on employees who are over 60 or pregnant from entering the office, but the Qatar authorities have advised they should be given priority to work from home if requested.
The previous precautionary measures (outlined below) must continue to be adhered to.
The precautionary measures referenced above include the following:
- 2 m social distancing at all times, including in communal areas.
- Elevators must not exceed 30% capacity to allow for social distancing.
- Individuals with disabilities or those who are pregnant must be given priority for elevators.
- It is mandatory for all employees to install the Ehteraz App on their smart phone. The Ehteraz App must show the employee is healthy to enable the employee to gain entry to most office buildings.
- Mandatory temperature checking of all individuals entering the premises.
- Any individuals showing symptoms, including a high temperature, should be refused entry to the premises, and any employees showing clear symptoms should be reported to the Ministry of Public Health.
- Regular sanitisation/sterilisation of equipment used by employees or customers.
- Disposable utensils must be used in any kitchen/dining areas.
- Face masks should be worn at all times by everyone, unless the person falls within one of the categories outlined in the guidelines, which includes people with sensory disorders or respiratory issues. A mask is also not required if the person is alone in a private office.
The above are the basic precautionary measures that must be taken. There may be additional sector-specific measures imposed that businesses need to be aware of.
Working hours for commercial and service activities are limited to 7am to 8pm (Sunday to Thursday). Certain sectors and companies are exempted from these reduced working hours, including the healthcare sector, the telecommunications sector and the food and restaurant sector.
Another government directive requires all retail outlets and commercial stores (that are not located in shopping centres/malls) to close on Fridays and Saturdays effective from 9 April 2020 until further notice. There are a number of sectors that are exempted from this directive, including food outlets and grocery stores, petrol stations, pharmacies, companies operating in the hospitality sector and construction companies operating on government-mandated projects.
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has taken the decision to permit money exchanges to reopen as of 12 May 2020. They still need to comply with precautionary measures set by the government relating to, among other things, social distancing guidelines, temperature checks and crowd control.
The phased reopening of the Doha Industrial Zone started on Wednesday, 28 April 2020. We understand, anecdotally, companies operating in certain areas of the Doha Industrial Zone may obtain a permit from the Ministry of Municipality and Environment to reopen earlier than initially set by the government, but such approval comes with stringent conditions.
The government has also applied new entry and exit procedures for street numbers 34-54 (inclusive) of the Doha Industrial Area. These procedures are effective from 11 May 2020 and include adherence to social distancing guidelines for individuals in those areas and regular sanitisation for premises in those areas. Except for the following, entry permits must be obtained by businesses in order to enter the Doha Industrial Area:
- auto-transport trailers for transporting private vehicles inside the Doha Industrial Area
- sewage suction and water trucks
- cleaning and garbage collection trucks
- concrete mixing transportation trucks
- money transport vehicles
2. Does an employer have to give notice to employees to return to the workplace?
We recommend notice be given as a matter of best practice, but no minimum notice is required.
3. Is an employer obliged to consult with employees/representatives about the return to work process?
4. Are there any requirements or recommendations for employees to wear or employers to provide masks or other protective equipment in the workplace?
All employees must wear masks and hand sanitisers must be installed. However, a mask is not required if the person is alone in a private office. The purchase of masks and sanitisation is the responsibility of the employer or building management. Employers must also conduct temperature checks on all people entering the office (including staff and visitors). Any individuals showing symptoms are not permitted to enter the workplace.
Employees working in hotels, food establishments or shopping malls must have regular contactless body-temperature screening throughout the day. Employers are required to report immediately any suspected cases of COVID-19 to the relevant health authority.
The Ministry of Public Health has issued technical guidelines for preventing COVID-19 in the workplace that include information on people who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, preventive measures at the workplace such as cleaning and disinfection, performing routine environmental cleaning, hand hygiene and cough etiquette, considerations for business travel and other useful guidelines on how to prevent COVID-19 that can be found on the Ministry of Public Heath’s website.
5. When can business travel resume and what are the key considerations for employers?
Overseas business travel is possible but not yet recommended. See government guidelines on travel in the Ministry of Public Health guidelines provided in question 4 above. On return to Qatar, the employee will be required to go into mandatory quarantine at a hotel designated by the government and paid for by the employer or employee.
6. If schools remain closed, can working parents continue to work from home?
During phase 2, only 50% of the workforce can attend the office. Employers are encouraged to adopt and adapt work from home policies that advocate working from home. Employees will, however, need to consult their employer to obtain consent to continue working from home. This is subject to the discretion and agreement of the employer. As above, pregnant or elderly employees or those with pre-existing medical conditions should be given priority for any working from home requests.