This article aims to provide a brief overview of the key provisions regulating sick leave in the State of Qatar.
The terms of employment of the majority of employees currently working in Qatar are governed by Law No.14 of 2004 (Labour Law) except those individuals and entities which are expressly excluded, including the employees of the Qatar Government and Qatar Petroleum amongst others. These employees are often subject to employment laws and regulations which are materially different than those set out in the Labour Law, e.g. they receive additional allowances, longer holidays and may be subject to different termination provisions. This article does not consider excluded employees.
Under the Labour Law, an employee is entitled to paid sick leave for each year of service. However, an employee will only be eligible for sick pay if the employee has been employed for a period of more than three months and only where a medical certificate is produced by a physician approved by the employer.
The minimum basis for payment during periods of sick leave is calculated as follows:
- During the first two weeks, the employee should receive full pay.
- During the next four weeks, the employee should receive half pay.
- Any period thereafter, up to six weeks, will be considered unpaid until the employee either resumes work, resigns or is terminated for health reasons.
Notwithstanding the above, an employer can contractually agree to provide its employees with more generous payment terms during periods of sick leave.
Termination during sick leave
The Labour Law does provide an employer with the right to terminate an employee's service at the end of the twelfth week of sick leave if it is proved by a report issued by a competent physician that the employee is unable to resume employment. If the employer decides to terminate the employee's employment on this basis the employer will not need to provide additional notice to the employee.
Resignation due to sickness absence
If an employee resigns from work due to sickness before the end of the period of six weeks for which the employee is entitled to sick leave with pay and his condition is supported by a medical opinion from a competent physician, an employer is obliged to pay the employee the outstanding balance of his paid entitlement for that period. This also applies in the event of an employee's death due to sickness before the end of the aforementioned six week period.
What about continuous service?
Any periods of sick leave up to a period 12 weeks will not constitute an interruption of continuous service in any year and will be included towards the relevant period for the purposes of any end of service benefit calculation.
The Labour Law does not permit an employee to carry over any sick leave entitlement to the following year. Any accumulated and unused sick leave will therefore be lost at the end of each year.
We would advise employers to ensure that any periods of sick leave are clearly documented in writing so that there is certainty as to the status of the leave which the employee is subject to at all times and that sick leave does not for example get confused with annual leave or maternity leave.
Similarly, it is sensible for an employer to request, and an employee to provide, during any lengthy and sustained period of sick leave weekly or monthly medical certificates so that the employer is kept abreast of the employee's condition and the employee keeps in regular contact with the employer.
Sick Leave can, if not appropriately managed internally, be a material reason for employer/employee disputes some of which will eventually result in labour court claims. The underlying basis for these disputes can relate to which periods are paid and what payments should be made, the validity of medical certificates and/or the physician providing them and a misunderstanding regarding how employment can be terminated during sick leave amongst other things. Clear policies and procedures enforced across the board together with good internal communications to manage expectations should assist in mitigating the risk of disputes and save both employers and employees from the time and costs which a labour court claim will incur.