How has the pandemic affected maternity leave rights in the UAE? Image Credit: Supplied

With pregnant women classed as ‘vulnerable’ during the pandemic and encouraged to work from home, many mothers-to-be may be worried about their job security and whether or not their maternity leave rights have changed in the Covid-19 New Normal.

We spoke to Victoria Smylie and the employment team at UAE law firm Al Tamimi to find out the latest on maternity leave rights and pay post-COVID.

How has the pandemic affected a pregnant woman’s maternity leave rights in the UAE?

“The COVID-19 outbreak has not changed the maternity leave entitlements under the UAE Labour Law, nor has it amended the terms in which an employer can lawfully terminate an employee’s contract of employment.

“In fact, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation has released a Ministerial Resolution (No. 279 of 2020) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which provides procedural guidance to protect all employees (not just pregnant employees or those on maternity leave) in circumstances where a company seeks to terminate employees during the application of the precautionary COVID-19 measures by the UAE government.

“Significantly, the Ministerial Resolution provides that an employer is required to provide an outgoing employee’s housing and all other entitlements (save for their basic salary) until the earlier of either: (i) the individual exiting the UAE; (ii) the individual obtaining the necessary authorisations to work for another establishment or; (iii) the repeal of the Ministerial Resolution.”

As such, a pregnant woman's pre-pandemic maternity leave rights remain valid: Read ‘What are your maternity leave rights in the UAE?’

How has the pandemic affected a pregnant woman’s maternity pay in the UAE?

“With respect to maternity pay, COVID-19 has had no effect on an employee’s entitlement under the UAE Labour Law. A female employee is still entitled to:

- 45 calendar days of leave at full pay for those employees who have completed one year of continuous service as at the date of birth

- Or 45 calendar days of leave at half pay for employees with less than one year of continuous service as at the date of birth

Maternity leave pay in both scenarios is gross salary, meaning it is inclusive of basic and allowances."

What happens if my company is refusing to give me my maternity leave pay in the UAE?

“In the event that a company does not pay an employee’s salary during the maternity leave period (or for any period of employment, except where the employer and employee have agreed to a period of unpaid leave) then the company would be in breach of their contractual and statutory obligations under the UAE Labour Law. In this instance the employee would be entitled to pursue a claim before the Labour Courts for the unpaid salaries."

Can I lose my job while on maternity leave in the UAE?

"With respect to returning to the office after maternity leave, whilst the UAE Labour Law does not include specific provisions regarding a prohibition on terminating an employee during maternity leave, if a female employee is terminated during her maternity leave without a valid reason (ie other than for poor performance or conduct), she could file a claim for arbitrary dismissal compensation in the Labour Courts. The maximum that the employee may be awarded in these circumstances is three months’ gross salary (basic and allowances), in addition to all other contractual and statutory entitlements and, potentially, the remaining balance of the maternity pay due to her."

Read more: Pregnant and working in the UAE: Could I lose my job?

If a woman is pregnant and does not want to come into the office for health reasons during COVID-19, can she be forced to return to the office?

“Pregnant employees are understood to be deemed “high risk” individuals and companies should therefore, where possible, facilitate remote working arrangements for such employees. This is in line with current guidance from the Dubai Health Authority, which advises that pregnant woman should proceed to work from home.

“However, there is no law which expressly prohibits pregnant employees from currently returning to the office due to safety concerns around COVID-19 albeit, there is a general obligation under the UAE Labour Law that an employer must “provide appropriate safety measures to protect labourers against the hazards of occupational injuries and diseases that may occur during the work”. Arguably this general duty would be relevant in respect to COVID-19, particularly so if the employee is able to work remotely and this is not accommodated by an employer.

“In the event a female employee was forced to return to work and she contracts COVID-19 and her pregnancy and or baby is affected, she may seek to hold the company liable for any health implications that arise as a result.”

If a pregnant woman is able to work from home but does not want to come into the office for health reasons during COVID-19, could she lose her job?

"If a pregnant employee has been asked to return to the office but is reluctant to do so due to safety concerns, we would recommend that the employee voices her concerns to her line manager. However, if the employer still requires that the employee attend the offices, she must do so or she faces the risk of disciplinary action (including the potential for summary dismissal) for unauthorised absence."

Does the paid breastfeeding hour for new mothers still apply in the UAE during COVID-19?

"Yes. For 18 months following the date of delivery, a female employee is entitled to two breaks of not more than half an hour each to nurse her child, without any loss to remuneration."

If I am made redundant from my job during COVID-19 am I entitled to compensation?

"The UAE Labour Law does not specifically provide for the concept of redundancy, and there are no provisions for redundancy compensation. As such, a redundancy will be viewed in the same way as termination with notice and the employee could pursue arbitrary dismissal compensation in the event that their termination was deemed as being not for a “valid reason”.

"In the past the Labour Courts have been willing to accept redundancy as a valid reason for dismissal in limited cases where the employer was able to satisfy that redundancies were necessary for a business to remain commercially viable or in circumstances where the business was no longer commercially viable. It is yet to be seen to what extent the Labour Courts will take the current economic climate as a result of COVID-19 into consideration when issuing judgements."