If you are facing a hostile environment at the workplace, whether through verbal, physical or sexual harassment, how can you raise you concerns with the relevant authorities?
The UAE Labour Law along with the UAE Penal Code provides rules about safety and protection of people and sets in place actions that violate the dignity of an individual.
What the UAE Labour Law states
According to Rajiv Suri, Senior Associate - Intellectual Property and Corporate at Al Suwaidi and Company Advocates and Legal Consultants, Article 4 and Article 14 of the new labour law – Federal Decree-law No. 33 of 2021, provide scenarios of the different types of harassment that employees can report in the UAE.
Article 4 of the law, which covers equality and discrimination, says that any discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, national or social origin or any disability, which would have the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or prejudicing equal treatment in the employment, the maintenance of a job and the enjoyment of its benefits, is prohibited.
“Further, Article 14.1 states that the employer shall not use any means that would oblige or force the worker, threaten him or her with any penalty to work for it [the employer], or compel him or her to undertake work or provide a service against his or her will. This means that an employer cannot make the worker or employee work on a certain job or rather compel him/her to undertake work against his/her will. And this is especially relevant in cases where such work is outside the scope of services he/she is expected to render under a contract of employment,” Suri said.
He added that Article 14.2 states that sexual harassment, bullying or any verbal, physical or psychological violence committed against the worker by the employer, his or her superiors at work, colleagues or the persons who work with him or her, are prohibited.
What the UAE Penal Code states
In cases where an individual is a victim of indecent behaviour, Article 407 and Article 413 of the UAE penal code – Federal Decree Law No. 31 of 2021 - detail provisions dealing with scandalous and disgraceful acts.
Article 407 penalises an offender who is found guilty of acts of molestation while Article 413 covers cases of sexual harassment.
The penalty shall be imprisonment for a period of no less than five years and not exceeding 20 years if the act or attempt is accompanied by force or threat.
The penalty shall be imprisonment for a period no less than 10 years and not exceeding 25 years, if the age of the victim is not more than 18 years of age, or if his or her will is not considered for any reason, or if he or she has a physical disability, or suffers from a health condition that renders him or her unable to resist, or the offender is one of the victim’s ascendants or relatives, or one of those responsible for his or her upbringing or taking care of him or her, or of those who have authority over him or her, or he or she was a servant with him or her or with those mentioned above, or the crime occurred in a place of work, study, shelter or care.
It is considered as sexual harassment any attempt to harass the victim by repeating actions, words or indications that would offend his or her modesty with the intent of making him or her respond to his or her sexual desires or the sexual desires of others.
The penalty shall be imprisonment for a period of no less than two years and a fine of no less than Dh50,000, or either of these two penalties if the perpetrators are multiple, or the offender carries a weapon, or if the victim is a child who has not completed 18 years of age, or the offender was one of the victim's ascendants, or one of their female relatives, or one of those responsible for his or her upbringing or take care of him or her, or those who have authority over him or her, or he or she was a servant to him or her or to those mentioned above.
“In all the above scenarios of sexual harassment and/or molestation, police should be immediately informed for taking appropriate action in accordance with the provisions under UAE Penal Code,” Suri said.
In all the above scenarios of sexual harassment and/or molestation, police should be immediately informed for taking appropriate action in accordance with the provisions under UAE Penal Code.
1. File a complaint with your company’s HR department
2. File a police complaint
3. File a complaint with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE)
What should I do if I face workplace harassment?
According to Dr Ibrahim Al Banna, CEO of Ibrahim Al Banna Advocates and Legal Consultants, typically, employees should raise their concerns with the Human Resources (HR) department of their company first. He added that companies, whether in the mainland or in a free zone, are obligated to take harassment reports seriously and follow specific steps.
“Employees facing harassment have certain obligations. The first step is identifying the type of harassment they are experiencing, whether it is discriminatory, physical, psychological, power-related, or sexual. Typically, employees should report incidents to their company’s Human Resources (HR) department. Companies have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment and should have established protocols for handling harassment complaints. Victims of harassment should diligently document all incidents, including dates, times, locations, and any witnesses. This documentation can be crucial for any subsequent investigation. If internal reporting does not yield satisfactory results or the harassment continues, seeking legal advice may be necessary. A legal professional can assess the situation and explore other avenues for resolution who could further guide you on reaching out to the authorities,” he said.
What is my employer’s responsibility?
According to Dr Al Banna, companies are required by law to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the harassment allegations, which may involve interviewing the victim, alleged harasser, and any witnesses.
“Companies must have their own procedures for handling employee grievances, which should be followed to address complaints effectively. If the allegations are substantiated, the company should take appropriate disciplinary action against the harasser, which may include warnings, suspension, or termination. The UAE Labour Law provides guidelines for this process. Companies should also take proactive steps to prevent future harassment, such as implementing anti-harassment training programmes and fostering a culture of respect and inclusion,” he said.
According to Dr Al Banna, depending on the nature and severity of the harassment, it may be necessary to report the incident to UAE authorities, especially if it involves criminal offenses like hate speech or religious contempt.
Companies must have their own procedures for handling employee grievances, which should be followed to address complaints effectively.
“The UAE has instituted legal provisions to address workplace discrimination and harassment. It is crucial for employees to know their rights and reporting procedures. Employers also play a pivotal role in fostering a workplace culture that prioritises diversity and inclusivity and takes proactive steps to prevent harassment and discrimination. Addressing these concerns remains essential for creating a respectful and equitable work environment,” he added.
If you want to seek advice on how to file a complaint as an employee, you can reach out to MOHRE through their hotline – 600590000.
For incidents related to harassment or safety, contact:
Abu Dhabi Police’s Aman service on 8002626 or send SMS to 2828.
Dubai Police’s Al Ameen service on 800 4444 from within the UAE or on +9718004444 from outside the UAE.
Sharjah Police’s Najeed service on 800151, or send SMS to 7999.