Covid-19: Can UAE employers force staff to take the vaccine?

Dubai - There is no Federal Law that suggests employees or residents must take the jab.

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Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Fri 15 Jan 2021, 6:44 PM

Last updated: Fri 15 Jan 2021, 6:45 PM

Employees cannot force their workplace staff to take the Covid-19 vaccination, according to top legal and labour law experts. The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) also clarified in a recently published Q&A that the vaccine is not mandatory. However, it is the most effective way to overcome the pandemic.

Over one million UAE residents have already opted to take the vaccine. Last week, Federal Authority for Government Human Resources announced UAE government employees who have not been vaccinated must undergo a PCR test every two weeks from January 17 at their own expense.

Moreover, several private companies are now organising mass vaccination drives for thousands of its employees. However, there is no Federal Law that suggests employees or residents, on the whole, must take Covid-19 vaccine.

‘People will always have a choice’

Ashish Mehta, the founder and managing partner of Ashish Mehta and Associated said, “In my view, UAE does things differently. The government here does not impose on people but gives them choices.”

He added, “In the case of this pandemic, the government has been running an awareness campaign for months and had started trials of vaccines pretty early on. It is now giving Covid-19 jabs for free. Basically, the aim is to arm people with sufficient information so that they can make an informed decision on their own.”

Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law said, “Companies are highly encouraged to have their employees vaccinated. However, with our present situation, I do not foresee that employers will be permitted by law to make vaccination a condition of employment as this will be a form of discrimination."

Praveen Shetty, the chairman of Fortune Group of Hotels said with support from MoHAP, he plans to inoculate 780 of the company’s employees. He said, “As the hotel staff are working 24/7 and are in direct contact with travellers from many countries, they are more vulnerable to transmission.”

In the first phase, Shetty hopes 365 staff members will be given the first dose of vaccine. He added, “It will not only save many lives but also help accelerate economic recovery. This will be a significant boon for tourism, which has been affected by border closures, travel restrictions and social distancing measures related to Covid-19.”

Legal experts also said that most of the currently available vaccinations do not offer 100 per cent protection against the virus.

Almazar explained, “Current literature from pharmaceuticals claim that although vaccines will protect you from getting ill and then ending up hospitalised, you can still carry the virus and be contagious to others. At present, we may see some industries where employers will be permitted by law to impose a vaccine on their workforce. This will be more of an exception, and not the general rule,” he added.

‘Employers cannot discriminate’

Employers are also not allowed to discriminate against their employees or hold a job opportunity from them for not taking the vaccine, explained the legal experts.

However, if the government imposes the requirement of the vaccine on certain sectors, then employers in those industries can and will require their employees to take the jab, said Ludmila Yamalova, the founder and managing partner of the Dubai-based general practice law firm, HPL Yamalova and Plewka DMCC.

She said, “It is likely that certain business sectors will introduce the requirement of the Covid-19 vaccine. This may include industries which are based on recurring and substantive personal exposure, such as education, health/medical, personal care, tourism (hotels, airports, planes), restaurants, etc. Also, it is reasonable to expect government sectors to introduce the mandatory vaccine.”

Almazar said, “As soon the vaccines have been approved, we have been asked by some of our clients regarding the vaccination of their staff. Employers are concerned about the health and productivity of their employees. However, employers cannot discriminate and require vaccination to keep one’s job.”

Global best practices

Companies can follow several best practices to ensure employee and community welfare. “The best practice is to give easy and free access to vaccines. For example, giving a paid day off to employees to get vaccinated rather than getting vaccinated outside office hours,” said Almazar. He added, “Special arrangements may be made for on-site vaccines or tie-ups with health care providers as the distribution process becomes more efficient.”

Information campaigns and social pressure are crucial in encouraging people to get their vaccines. Raising awareness and eradicating barriers will ensure compliance and ensure public health and safety.

Education sector encouraged to protect students

The UAE Ministry of Education has told Khaleej Times that the vaccination is not mandatory for those in the education sector; however, teachers are encouraged to take it to protect students.

Ashish Mehta explained, “In the case of Abu Dhabi, the government identifies teachers as frontline workers. By vaccinating the teachers, the government is looking to add a layer of protection to the school ecosystems and prevent children from getting infected by the teachers.”

Since the education sector could eventually be one where the vaccine is made mandatory, Yamalova, said, “Yes, with regards to the education sector, it is reasonable to foresee that the vaccine will be made mandatory, at least for the teachers and staff.”

She added, “This is unlike the current requirement of other more established vaccines, which students are required to present to schools, prior to being enrolled.”

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