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.?
All private sector businesses and shopping malls may now resume normal operating hours at 100% capacity. Private sector businesses have been defined as “commercial centres, companies and private establishments” and therefore include all office spaces. There is no specific prohibition regarding employees who are over 60 or pregnant from entering the office, but the Dubai 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.
Entertainment venues (e.g. cinemas) may continue to operate at 30% occupancy for employees and customers, subject to the previous precautionary measures being adhered to.
The precautionary measures referenced above include the following:
- 2m 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
- 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 Dubai Health Authority
- regular sanitisation/sterilisation of equipment used by employees and/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.
2. Does an employer have to give notice to employees to return to the workplace?
We recommend that 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 entrants to the office (including staff and visitors) and 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 Supreme Committee (Dubai) has issued guidance on the use of face masks and a list of exemptions. Relevant exemptions now include:
- people of determination with cognitive, intellectual or sensory disorders or any impairments that hamper their ability to breathe or communicate, and those for whom masks can lead to sensory triggering (this should be confirmed by a medical report); and
- individuals who require supplemental oxygen or have severe respiratory conditions, who cannot breathe safely or have difficulty breathing with a mask (this should be confirmed by a medical report).
The Committee also decided to allow the public to remove their face masks temporarily outside the house, though strictly only under the following (relevant) conditions:
- while eating or drinking in indoor and outdoor settings – though the public must however maintain physical distance with others
- while being alone with no people around – for example, in a private office setting
5. When can business travel resume and what are the key considerations for employers?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that UAE residents will be able to re-enter the UAE from abroad from 1 June 2020, subject to the residents entry permit being granted in advance by the Identity and Citizenship Authority. This can be applied for on the Authority’s website.
Overseas business travel is not yet recommended.
6. If schools remain closed, can working parents continue to work from home?
Employees will need permission from their employer 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.