Hire in United Arab Emirates
Here’s where you get started with human resources best practices and hiring in United Arab Emirates.
Key Country Facts
The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain) along the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Each emirate is governed by a Sheikh and, together, they form the Federal Supreme Council; one of them serves as President of the United Arab Emirates. The federation’s economy is dominated by the petroleum produced primarily in the Abu Dhabi emirate. The emirate of Dubai serves as a commercial and financial hub for the region and leads the country in economic diversification.
The UAE is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the west and south and by Oman to the east and northeast, and has maritime borders in the Persian Gulf together with Qatar and Iran. Nearly the entire country is desert, containing broad areas of sand.
The climate of the UAE is subtropical-arid with hot summers and warm winters. It is hot and humid along the coast and is hotter still, but dry, in the interior. The hottest months are July and August when average maximum temperatures reach above 45 °C on the coastal plain.
Emirati culture is based on Arabian culture and has been influenced by the cultures of Persia, India, and East Africa. It has a diverse society and the country’s historical population as a small tribal community that has changed with the arrival of other nationals in the mid-20th century. The country was also part of the British Empire until 1971.
Islam is the largest and the official state religion of the UAE. The government follows a policy of tolerance toward other religions and rarely interferes in the religious activities of non-Muslims. >60% of the Emirati population are Muslims, majority of whom are Sunni Muslims. There are also small but growing numbers of Christians and Hindus in the country.
Arabic is the national language of the United Arab Emirates. The Gulf dialect of Arabic is spoken natively by Emirati people. The area was occupied by the British until 1971 and, with many expatriates resident, English is the primary lingua franca in the UAE. A knowledge of English is a requirement when applying for most local jobs.
UAE HR at a Glance
Employment is a matter for regulation at federal level, and the principal legislation is the Labour Law, accompanied by a range of Ministerial Decrees and Resolutions. The Labour Law generally applies to employment relationships throughout the UAE, excluding the public sector, domestic servants and agricultural workers.
There are 35 ‘free zones’ in the UAE, 2 of which are the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), that have entirely distinct legal systems and their own employment legislation (replacing the UAE Labour Law). The main differences in the ADGM Employment Regulations and DIFC Employment Law relate to the employment of foreign and UAE nationals, payment of wages, health and safety, and termination of contract.
The new Federal Law No. 33 of 2021 (New Labour Law) will take effect on February 2nd, 2022, and will repeal the current labour law. The New Labour Law is applicable to employers and employees in the UAE’s private sector, companies owned in whole or in part by federal or local government, companies incorporated in the UAE mainland and regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MoHRE), and companies in the freezones except ADGM and DIFC.
The information in this document focuses on employment legislation applicable to the Dubai Development Authority (DDA) Free Zone.
Employment contracts (and other employment-related documentation and instructions) do not have to be in Arabic; contracts in English are widely accepted in the DDA.
Employment contracts must in principle be in writing, with copies retained by the worker and the employer.
With the new labour law that will take effect on February 2nd 2022, unlimited contracts are to be replaced by fixed-term employment contracts.
All employees must be employed on fixed-term employment contracts not exceeding three years, which may be extended for the same or period. Employers will have 12 months from Feb. 2, 2022, to transition all their employees onto new contracts.
Employers are required to have internal work regulations in accordance with the New Labour Law.
All employment contracts must state:
Employment start date
Type and scope of work
Place of work
For fixed term contracts, the duration
For work permits holders and residency visas, all workers must have a standard-format written employment contract following an official template. The contract must be registered with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) or the relevant free zone authority. The DDA Free Zone has its own standard employment contracts.
If the employment is for less than 30 days, the employee is not required to have an employment contract or the right to an itemised pay statement.
There are no specific provisions regarding employee/contractor classification. The concept of a ‘contractor’ or ‘self-employed’ individual is not expressly recognised under the law.
In certain free zones there is a freelancer visa that individuals can obtain in order to work independently. Individuals can establish their own consultancy company (akin to a contractor) and render services within the confines and terms of their trade licence, but such arrangements are limited.
The New Labour Law introduces flexible contracts types and working models such as part-time, temporary, flexible/freelance arrangements. For remote work, employees can do so as long as they have the approval from the employer.
An employer may ask a candidate to undergo medical tests at a clinic or hospital of the employer’s choosing and at the expense of the employer. The employer may make employment conditional on the candidate passing these tests.
Pre-employment checks for drug screenings are rare. A certificate of good conduct confirming that the individual does not have a criminal record in the UAE may be obtained by the prospective employer.
With regards to social media, it is common for employers to utilise professional social media sites such as LinkedIn at the recruitment/pre-employment stage.
Probation Period / Trial Period
Probationary periods may last up to six months, during which the employer may terminate the employment contract by giving 14 days’ notice.
The same worker may not serve more than one probationary period with the same employer. The probationary period must be considered part of the worker’s period of continuous service with the employer.
When an employee resigns during the probation period, the notice period is as follows:
1 month – if employee is joining another employer in the UAE. In this scenario, the new employer has to compensate current employer for the employee’s recruitment costs.
14 days – if employee is leaving the UAE. In this scenario, should the employee return to the UAE within three months, the new employer will be liable to the previous employer for recruitment costs.
Normal working hours must not exceed eight hours per day and:
48 hours per week over a six-day working week; or
40 hours per week over a five-day working week.
Employees are entitled to at least one day off per week, and this does not have to be on a Friday.
The daily limit is nine hours for workers in specified industries, notably commerce, hotels, catering and security. Normal daily hours must be cut by two hours during Ramadan (the Islamic holy month).
Workers’ travel time between their residence and workplace is not counted as working time. Employees cannot work more than five consecutive hours without taking a break of at least one hour for rest, food and prayer. The break does not constitute a working hour.
The provisions on working hours and overtime do not apply to workers in managerial or supervisory positions.
From 15 June to 15 September each year, employees who perform work outdoors in the sun e.g. on construction sites, must take a “midday break” from 12.30pm to 3pm. Employers must provide employees with a shaded rest area and cold drinks. The break is not paid and the employees’ working day is split into a morning and evening shift.
As of January 2022, the work week for federal government entities will be 4.5 days, with weekends starting from Friday afternoons, Saturday and Sunday. For the private sector, the only obligation is for employees to be entitled to one rest day per week. This does not have to be on a Friday; however, many businesses are shifting their work week to align with the Government.
Workers may work no more than two hours of overtime on any day, except where work is necessary to prevent major losses or a serious accident, or to deal with the consequences of such an occurrence.
Any hours that exceed the statutory limits for normal working time are considered to be overtime, for which the worker must receive 125% the normal rate of pay 150% if the overtime is worked between 9pm and 4am.
For work performed on a Friday (which is designated as a statutory day off), an employer must offer:
a compensatory day off work
basic salary for hours worked and additional compensation equal to 50% of that salary
Timesheets and Record Keeping
Employers that employ at least five workers must keep a file for each worker, stating their name, occupation, age, nationality, address, marital status, date of employment, wages (and any adjustments), disciplinary sanctions penalties imposed if any, and occupational injuries and diseases sustained, and the date of and reasons for termination of employment. The file must include a leave card, recording annual leave, sick leave and other leave taken.
Employers that employ at least 15 workers must keep at every workplace:
a payroll record stating for all workers the date employment started and ended, the days worked, the amount of daily, weekly or monthly wages paid, fringe benefits, and any piecework or commission payments
a record of all occupational injuries and diseases sustained
“basic work regulations”, approved by the public labour authorities and displayed prominently, stating the daily working hours, the weekly rest period, public holidays, and the measures and precautions taken for the prevention of occupational injuries and fire hazards
disciplinary rules, approved by the public labour authorities and displayed prominently, stating the applicable disciplinary offences and sanctions
Employers must keep records for two years after the termination of an employment contract.
There is no statutory requirement to pay bonuses and this is generally at the discretion of the employer, unless the employment contract specifically mentions payment of bonus (and the basis by which it is calculated and paid).
End of Service / Termination
Under the New Labour Law, redundancy is recognised as a reason for dismissal (e.g. if employer is insolvent or going through economic restructuring). Other reasons for dismissal include employee not having the necessary skills. For termination on the employer’s initiative, the employee is entitled to one day of unpaid leave per week to look for a new job.
Employers may not terminate a female employee during pregnancy or when on maternity leave.
All final dues to employees have to be made within 14 days of the termination date.
Employer and employee can come to a mutual agreement on the notice period but it must be a minimum of 30 days and no more than 90 days.
During the probation period, the employer must give 14 days notice, and the employee must give 1 month notice.
Notice must be given in writing. During a notice period, the worker must be paid their full wages and must continue to carry out their job, unless the employer does not require this. The employer or worker may pay the other party in lieu of all or part of the notice period, at the worker’s normal wage rate.
End of Service Gratuity / Severance
Workers who have at least one year’s service (excluding any days of unpaid absence) are entitled to a statutory “end-of-service gratuity” upon termination.
The gratuity is calculated as:
21 days’ wages – for employment up to 5 years of service
30 days’ wages – for employment above 6 years of service, capped at two years’ wages
The wages on which the gratuity is calculated exclude all bonuses and allowances, overtime pay and payments in kind.
For unlawful termination, i.e. employee filing a serious complaint or successful claim against the employer, severance is up to 3 months’ salary in addition to all other contractual and statutory entitlements. The total compensation takes into account the employee’s length of service, work responsibilities and damage sustained by the employee.
Post-Termination Restraints / Restrictive Covenants
Employers may include restrictive covenants (or clauses which prevent an employee from certain acts such as joining a competitor for a period) in their employment contracts.
However, these can be enforced only to the extent necessary to safeguard the employer’s lawful interest. The clauses must be limited in duration, geographical scope and by the nature of the business itself.
The market practice is to limit non-competes for six to 12 months.
Other Termination Formalities
The UAE Labour Law places an obligation on employers in the UAE, on the termination of employment, to provide a certificate to an employee setting out specific information, where the employee requests the employer to do so. The information includes:
the period of the employment
the nature of the work performed by the employee during the employment
details of the employee’s remuneration package.
There is no specific legislation on data protection under the Labour Law. However, the Penal Code states that employers can collect and use personal data only with the consent of the worker or job applicant concerned.
Tax and Social Security
Personal Income Tax
Social security obligations also apply to employees of companies and branches registered in a free trade zone (FTZ). Residents of other GCC nations may be subject to different social security contributions relative to their home country. Non-GCC nationals are not subject to social security in the United Arab Emirates.
Apart from pension contributions for UAE/GCC nationals, employers in some free zones (DMCC, JAFZ, RAKEZ) must contribute to a private insurance scheme to provide employee compensation for occupational accidents and diseases.
In DIFC, the DIFC Employee Workplace Savings Scheme (DEWS) was implemented in February 2020. Under this scheme, employers are required to make monthly contributions of 5.83% or 8.33% of employee’s basic salary (depending on employee’s length of service).
UAE nationals who hold a UAE family book (documenting the lineage of the family) are entitled to a monthly pension contribution from their employers. Employers make these payments to the designated emirate’s pensions authority, depending on which emirate the worker is employed in. The worker must also make monthly contributions.
The above rates serve as a broad guideline. Actual rates charged will differ.
Common practice is for employers to pay employees 3-5 working days before the end of the pay period. Pay period must not exceed one month for workers whose pay is calculated on an annual or monthly basis, and all other workers must be paid at least once a fortnight.
Wages must be paid on a working day, by deposit into their bank accounts. Payment can be in UAE Dirhams or other currency.
Workers must not be required to purchase food or other goods from specific shops, or to purchase the employer’s products.
Employees must be provided with an itemised pay statement, stating the amount of remuneration and the amount and purpose of any variable or fixed deductions. Electronic access to pay statements that can be printed are accepted.
Workers are entitled to 30 days of paid annual leave after one year’s service with an employer is completed. During the first year of service, employees are only entitled to annual leave after they have completed six months’ service, and thereafter they are entitled to two calendar days of paid annual leave per month until they complete one year’s service.
Leave must be taken in the year when the worker accrues the entitlement, but employers have the discretion to implement a leave carry-over policy.
Workers are entitled to sick leave if they have completed three months’ service with their employer (paid sick leave does not accrue during the probationary period). The statutory entitlement is up to 90 calendar days of sick leave each year. The worker is entitled to:
Full pay for the first 15 days of sick leave per year
Half pay for the 16th to 45th days
No statutory entitlement to sick pay during the remainder of the annual sick leave quota.
Once a worker has been absent on grounds of sickness for more than 90 days, the employer is entitled to dismiss them if they do not return to work. In such cases, the worker is, if they meet the eligibility requirements, entitled to an end-of-service gratuity.
Workers are entitled (under the Labour Law) on one occasion to take special unpaid leave of up to 30 days to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage.
For ADGM, it is 30 days and for DIFC, it is 21 days, both for employees with at least 1 years’ service.
Maternity & Parental Leave
Pregnant workers are entitled to 60 days of maternity leave, where the employee will receive full pay for the first 45 days and half pay for the remaining 15 days. This entitlement is available to all pregnant female employees regardless of time of service with the employer.
The law does not stipulate when the leave should start, but it should be taken around the time of the birth.
Female employees who miscarry after six months of pregnancy, or stillbirth or death of child following birth are also entitled to the maternity leave benefits.
If a female employee gives birth to a disabled or ill infant, she is entitled to an additional 30 calendar days of maternity leave, which can be extended by an additional 30 unpaid days of leave.
There is no additional family care leave, including parental and paternity leave. However, nursing mothers are entitled to two paid half-hour breaks during working hours for six months upon returning to work.
Pregnant employees are able to take 45 days of maternity-related sick leave (consecutively or as needed).
Employees who become fathers are entitled to take 5 working days of paid paternity leave.
In the event of death of a close family member:
5 days – employee’s spouse
3 days – employee’s immediate family
Employees who have had 2 years of service or more with an employer, enrolled in an approved UAE education institution, are entitled to 10 days of study leave per year for taking examinations.
Workers are entitled to a paid day off on official public holidays. The Government currently provides for the following public holidays to be observed:
1 January (Gregorian New Year’s Day)
Eid al-Fitr — four days
Eid al-Adha and Arafat Day — four days
Islamic New Year’s Day (Al-Hijra)
The Prophet Mohammed’s birthday
1 December (Commemoration Day)
2–3 December (National Day) — two days.
Benefits to the Employee in UAE
The state retirement pension scheme, which also applies in the DIFC and ADGM, covers UAE nationals only.
Employers in UAE must provide employees who are foreign nationals with private health insurance, and this is a prerequisite for obtaining a work visa. Insurance for the employee’s spouse and dependents is often provided, but this is at the discretion of the employer.
Visas and Foreign Workers
All workers require a work permit for employment in the UAE. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) issues the work permit (sometimes also known as a labour card) on application by the employer. In the free zones, the authorities issue a similar document, generally referred to as an ID card.
For nationals of the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia), the granting of a work permit (or free zone equivalent) is generally sufficient to enable the individual concerned to be employed.
For other non-UAE nationals, an entry permit and residency visa are also required. Outside the free zones, the procedure for obtaining the relevant visas and permits requires the employer to give the prospective foreign worker a standard-format job offer letter containing details of the employment plus an annex setting out the main provisions of the Labour Law.
The employer must submit a copy of the employment contract to the DDA Free Zone for visa to be processed.
Employers must, in order to cover their potential liability for pay and benefits owed to workers, either:
deposit a bank guarantee (currently around AED 3000 per worker), or
contribute to a special insurance scheme for this purpose (at a current annual rate of AED 60 per worker)
Public Holidays in 2022
|1.||New Year’s Day||January 1st|
|2.||Eid Al Fitr (commemorates the end of the fasting month of Ramadan)||30th April -3rd May|
|3.||Arafat Day||8th July|
|4.||Eid Al Adha (Festival of Sacrifice)||9th – 11th July|
|5.||Islamic New Year||30th July|
|6.||Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday||8th October|
|7.||Commemoration Day||1st December|
|8.||UAE National Day||2nd – 3rd December|
Several other holidays are observed, either unofficially at a national level or by official local public observance.