With the end of the school year imminent, this article explores some of the issues relating to termination of employment in the education sector, both by the education institution and by the employee. As employers in the education sector will appreciate, this can often be a tricky issue due to the various, and not always consistent, contractual documents, regulations and laws applicable to education institutions.
The overarching law governing most employment relationships in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is Federal Law No. 8 of 1980, as amended (UAE Labour Law).
The UAE Labour Law distinguishes between limited and unlimited term contracts. Unlimited term contracts are fairly flexible in that they can be terminated at any time by the provision of contractually agreed notice (which must be at least 30 days) for a "valid" reason
By contrast, limited term contracts (which are of course extremely prevalent in education institutions, particularly for academic staff) may not be terminated prior to the agreed expiry date. Where they are, early termination compensation is payable for three months (or for the remainder of the contract, if shorter) at full pay or half pay depending on whether the employer or employee respectively is the terminating party.
The Ministry of Labour (MoL) has (by way of a Ministerial Decree which came into effect on 1 January 2016) broadened the circumstances in which a limited term contract for a renewed term may be terminated. However, most education institutions will fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education (MoE) rather than the MoL and so this new Ministerial Decree will not directly apply.
The UAE Labour Law does not, however, govern all employment relationships between education institutions and their employees. For example, some education institutions will be government owned, in which case the Civil Service Law may apply, and others may be established by Federal Decree which specifically allows the institution to impose its own employment rules and terms.
When considering issues relating to termination (or any other labour related issues), the applicable law must of course be established from the outset.
To add further complexity, regard must be had to any specific termination provisions contained in any regulations applicable to the education institution.
For example, most education institutions in Abu Dhabi will fall under the jurisdiction of the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC). ADEC has in place a set of regulations which, for example, state that teachers should not resign from their employment during the course of the school year. In Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority will be the regulatory body for most private education institutions.
Some education institutions will be based in one of the UAE's free zones and will therefore also need to consider any relevant provisions in the free zone's rules and regulations.
Specific contractual terms relating to termination of employment must also be taken into account. Most (but not all) education institutions will be governed by the MoE and will be required to enter into an employment contract with employees in a form prescribed by the MoE (MoE Contract).
The MoE Contract contains specific provisions relating to the termination of employment, not all of which are consistent with the UAE Labour Law. For example, it requires that at least two months' notice of termination must be provided prior to the end of the academic year and that, where the contract is terminated prior to the end of the academic year, one month's compensation is payable to the other party.
Education institutions based in one of the UAE's free zones may be required to issue an employment contract in a form prescribed by the relevant free zone authority instead.
Many education institutions will also enter into a supplementary contract with employees setting out the terms and conditions of employment in more detail and we often see cases where the terms of the prescribed form and supplementary contracts are not entirely consistent.
In the event of a dispute, the Labour Court would review all documentation and would generally resolve any discrepancy between terms in favour of the employee. It is not possible to contract out of the UAE Labour Law, although it is possible to enhance it to an employee's advantage so any contractual terms or policy documents which enhance the statutory minimum provisions will prevail in the event of a dispute.
It is clear that there is no "one size fits all" approach to terminating employment for education institutions.
Whenever terminating employment, or considering the implications of an employee's decision to resign, consideration must be given from the outset to the applicable governing law, any applicable governing regulations and all relevant contractual terms, not all of which will be consistent and which will vary from institution to institution.