Schools in other jurisdictions rely heavily on the services of supply teachers to cover periods of leave. This article summarises the legal and practical difficulties with engaging supply teachers in the UAE and Qatar together with some suggestions for dealing with those difficulties.

Generally speaking, in order to lawfully work in the region, all non-GCC nationals must have a valid residence visa and work permit authorising them to do so. This poses considerable issues for schools which may need to cover teaching absence at short notice and need to have the flexibility to engage individuals to do so on a short term and ad hoc basis.

We are aware that some schools engage the services of expatriates who are sponsored by their spouses for residency visa purposes on an ad hoc basis to cover periods of leave. In our experience, such individuals are not generally sponsored or employed by the school, are often paid in cash and do not receive the usual statutory benefits such as payment for annual leave or sick leave.

Such an approach is not strictly lawful under the immigration rules in the UAE and Qatar. A residence visa sponsored by a family member does not authorise that individual to work. In order to lawfully work for a school, an individual must have a work permit sponsored by the school. As part of this sponsorship, the school will need to enter into an employment contract with the individual and will assume the usual employment obligations and responsibilities (including to pay annual leave, sick leave, end of service gratuity and any other statutory benefits).

A work permit sponsored by a particular school only permits the individual to work for that school. This means that, unlike in some jurisdictions, an individual cannot lawfully provide supply services to a number of different schools on an ad hoc basis.

In Saudi, the government has addressed this issue to a certain extent with the introduction of the Ajeer system which, subject to certain conditions, enables the dependents of expatriate workers to work in private schools without having their sponsorship transferred to and/or being employed by the school and enables institutes and colleges to obtain Temporary Work Notices to enable personnel of one entity to provide services to another.

Until such measures are introduced in the UAE and Qatar schools will need to consider other options for covering leave and robustly manage periods of absence to reduce the need to rely on supply teachers. 

Practical suggestions for mitigating the difficulties

Covering staff

  • Employ staff on a permanent basis specifically to cover periods of absence. To reduce costs, such staff could be paid a nominal basic wage and an uplift per lesson covered. However, there would of course be a cost associated with obtaining a visa for such an individual and the individual would have the usual employment rights, including the right to annual leave and an end of service gratuity payment

Sickness absence

  • Have a sickness absence policy which clearly informs employees of the sickness absence reporting requirements
  • Closely monitor sickness absence and, if there are any patterns, for example repeated sicknesses immediately following a weekend, discuss this with the employee so that they are aware that the school is alert to the issue
  • Require employees to attend a return to work interview after all occasions of absence, however short, to discuss the reason for their absence
  • Contractually require employees to submit a medical note for all cases of sickness absence, however short, or for periods of, say, more than 1 day

Maternity leave

  • Under the relevant labour laws, there is no requirement for employees to commence maternity leave within a certain period of the expected date of childbirth or to notify the employer within a particular period of their intended return date. In the UAE, for example, an employee may, towards the end of the 45 day statutory maternity leave period, provide a medical report which states that they are unable to work for a further 100 days. This poses difficulties for schools when arranging suitable cover
  • To mitigate this issue, schools could implement a maternity policy which stresses the importance of classes being covered and the need for the school to have as much notice as possible of the intended return date
  • Encourage open dialogue between the school and the teacher throughout period of maternity leave
  • Schools could also take steps to incentivise employees to return to work on the intended work date by, for example, offering a return to work bonus if they do so