Whilst workplace injuries can, unfortunately, occur in any workplace worldwide, the approach taken by lawmakers in different legal regimes varies widely.
All employment in the UAE (outside of the Dubai International Financial Centre) is subject to the Federal Labour Law (Federal Law No. 8 of 1980, as amended) (Labour Law). Under the Labour Law, employers are liable for workplace injuries suffered by employees, or diseases they contract as a result of their work, without any finding of fault on the part of the employer. There are only a few exceptions to this, in cases where the employee’s conduct warrants this.
Occupational diseases, and the occupations expected to give rise to a risk of those diseases, are listed in a schedule to the Labour Law. These primarily list various types of poisoning, as well as certain diseases which may be contracted through work at a hospital or with animals, and therefore are unlikely to be of concern for employers and their staff operating in an office environment.
However, workplace injuries are defined quite widely under the Labour Law, so that they cover any accident sustained by the employee during the performance of their work or as a result of their work. This is expressly stated to include any accident sustained by an employee on their way to or from work, provided that journey is made without delay, default or diversion from their normal route.
In the event that an employee has a workplace accident or contracts an occupational disease, the employer is obliged to file a report with the police immediately, as well as with the Ministry of Labour (or relevant free zone authority). The report must include a description of the accident, as well as the arrangements made for the employee’s medical treatment. Providing this information can of course be problematic if it relates to an accident which occurred during an employee’s journey to or from work.
The police will then investigate the accident and prepare a report indicating whether in their view the accident was connected with the employee’s work and whether it resulted from deliberate or negligent actions by the employee (which may reduce or negate the compensation payable by the employer). This report is sent to the Ministry of Labour as well as to the employer.
Employers are obliged to cover the medical costs of workplace injuries, as well as the transport expenses arising from the employee’s treatment, until the employee recovers or their disability is confirmed. The medical expenses can be covered by a private medical insurance policy, although the employer may have to pay any employee contributions or excess under the policy.
In addition to the payment of medical costs, where the injury prevents an employee from carrying out their duties, the employer must also pay the employee a financial subsidy equal to full pay (calculated with reference to the last pay received by the employee) throughout the period of treatment, or for a period of six months, whichever is the shorter. Where treatment continues beyond six months, the employer is required to pay a financial subsidy of half pay for a period of six months, or until either the employee recovers from the illness or accident, their disability is confirmed, or they die. The financial subsidy can also be covered by an appropriate insurance scheme.
Finally, where an employee dies or suffers a disability as a result of a workplace accident or occupational disease, the employee, or their estate, is entitled to a compensation payment under the Labour Law. The maximum compensation, for accidents that result in death or very serious injury (such as paralysis or facial disfigurement) is 24 months’ remuneration (calculated with reference to the last pay earned by the employee), provided that this is not less than AED 18,000 and not more than AED 35,000. For other disabilities, the Labour Law provides a sliding scale of compensation payable by the employer, based on a percentage of the maximum award. For example, an employee would be entitled to compensation of 70% of the maximum award for the loss of both arms, and 38% for the loss of their right hand.
Although the Labour Law does not require fault on the part of the employer, the employee’s right to have medical treatment paid by their employer, or to receive a financial subsidy, or compensation from their employer, is lost in certain circumstances listed in the Labour Law, including where the employee “… was at the time of the incident under the influence of drugs or alcoholic drinks”.
Where there is a dispute over the injury or compensation due, claims must be brought before the Ministry of Labour in the first instance, which seeks to facilitate settlement. If no settlement is reached, the Ministry of Labour will refer the dispute to the courts. In all cases, claims must be brought within one year of the date of the accident or injury.
In addition to their potential rights under the Labour Law, employees can bring a claim against their employer under the UAE Civil Code (Federal Law No. 5 of 1987, as amended) (Civil Code). The employee must demonstrate fault on the part of the employer, which means these claims are less likely to succeed. Claims under the Civil Code are assessed separately to those under the Labour Law.
The Civil Code provides that where someone has suffered harm, they may claim compensation against those who have caused that harm, which essentially encompasses acts of negligence as well as deliberate acts of harm. A judge can reduce the damages award where the victim was also responsible for the harm they suffered (contributory negligence).
The Civil Code also allows those who suffer damage or loss as a result of an act committed by an employee to bring a claim against their “supervisor”, which is defined as someone who “has actual control by way of supervision and direction over a person who caused damage”, which includes employers.
The employee’s actions must occur by virtue of, or during the performance of, their job. A 2008 Court of Cassation judgment held that a pizza restaurant was vicariously liable for the actions of a deliveryman who raped a child whilst making a delivery. The approach the court adopted when considering whether or not the restaurant should be liable was a ‘but-for’ test; i.e. but for the deliveryman’s job, would he have been in a position to carry out the act? This is considerably wider than the approach taken under English law. However, principles of negligence are comparatively under-developed in UAE law and there is no formal system of decisions being binding on other courts.
Implications for UAE employers
Under the Labour Law, employees are likely to receive payment from their employer (whether for medical treatment, financial subsidy, or compensation) for any workplace accident or occupational disease they suffer, so adequate insurance cover is important. In addition, employers should have suitable health & safety guidelines in place, including a requirement to report any accident (including any which occur outside of the workplace), so that these may be addressed promptly, in accordance with the Labour Law provisions.