What are the leave and holiday entitlements for UAE employees?

Full-time employees working in the UAE are entitled to leave and holidays as per laws in the country, which broadly include annual or recreation leave, sick and maternity leave. However, the structure of holidays and the range differ for public and the private sector as well as those working in the DIFC.

'Emirates24|7' spoke with Alexander McGeoch, Head/Employment & General legal services, at Hadef & Partners and Sara Khoja, Partner at Clyde & Co, specialising in employment and labour laws to find out what kind of leave are employees in the country entitled to.

The Hadef & Partner’s expert concentrates on private and public sector, whereas, the legal expert from Clyde & Co, covers UAE Federal Law No.8 of 1980, as amended (UAE Labour Law). (Broadly speaking, this law is applicable to employees who work ‘onshore’ in the UAE and in free zones other than the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

She states Dubai International Financial Centre Employment Law (No.4 of 2005) (the DIFC Employment Law) is applicable to individuals who are employed by companies in the DIFC.

Annual leave

McGeoch: For the private sector there is no annual leave accrual during probation, which can last for up to a maximum of six months.

Hence, during the probationary period the employee will not be entitled to any leave. Thereafter, for the first year of service annual leave accrues (with retrospective effect from the start date of employment) at the rate of two days per month. If the employee is thinking of leaving within the first 12 months of service, it is more sensible for them to ‘hold on’ until they are into their second year of service. The reason is that, as from the beginning of the second year of continuous employment, annual leave entitlement increases retrospectively (i.e. to the service commencement date) from 2 days per month to 30 calendar days per year, which works out at 2.5 days of leave per year.

If work circumstances so require (for example an important project has to be completed by a certain deadline), an employee can postpone annual leave to the following year or take cash payment in lieu of annual leave. However, accumulated annual leave cannot be carried over beyond the end of the second successive year.

So far as the public sector is concerned, senior officials are entitled to an annual leave allowance of 30 working days, which amounts to around 6 weeks. However, ordinary civil servants are only entitled to 22 working days.

Khoja: UAE Labour Law states 30 calendar days a year. If the employee’s period of service is more than six months and less than one year, the employee is entitled to annual leave of not less than two days for every calendar month of service. If the employee’s period of service exceeds one year, the entitlement is 30 calendar days’ annual leave.

DIFC Employment Law provides a minimum of 20 working days of annual leave, employees with at least 3 months of continuous service accrue pro-rata.

Sick leave

McGeoch: Employees in the private sector, who have completed probation plus a further six months of continuous service with the same employer, are entitled to an initial sick leave allowance of 15 days on full pay, which may be used altogether at one time or a few days at a time at intervals throughout the year. Once the employee has used up the first 15 days of sick leave on full pay, they are entitled to a further 30 days leave of absence on grounds of sickness on half pay.

Finally, if the employee still has not recovered form his (or her) illness after 45 days off work, the employee is permitted a further 45 days of sick leave without pay. There are two further important point to note: (1) any employee who is away from work for more than a day as a result of illness must produce a doctor’s certificate verifying the employee’s reasons for absence on medical grounds and (2) no employee can be terminated while on sick leave.

As regards public sector employees, the rules are somewhat complex.

Essentially, public servants are entitled, subject to an approved medical report from the Official medical Department, to a basic sick leave allowance of 15 working days per year, which (in contrast to the private sector rule) may only be taken in periods of 5 days at a time.

However, in cases of a persistent or chronic medical condition or the need for long-term treatment, an employee may apply for an extended sick leave of up to six months, which will be granted if authorised by the Civil Service Medical Committee, on the basis of an assessment conducted by the Committee itself. Thereafter, the six month period of sick leave can be extended for a further six months, on the same basis. Under applicable rules, civil servants are entitled to full pay while on sick leave.

Khoja: UAE Labour Law provides 90 calendar days' sick leave; 15 days at full pay, 30 days at half pay and 45 days without pay.

DIFC Employment Law provides for employees to receive 90 days of paid sick leave.

Maternity leave

McGeoch: The private sector maternity leave allowance is 45 days on full pay, subject to a minimum period of continuous service of one year. Maternity leave may be taken during the entire period of confinement (that is to say, partly before and partly after delivery).

Thereafter the leave can, with the support of appropriate medical reports, be extended for a period of up to 100 consecutive or non-consecutive days without pay, if the mother is not in a fit enough condition to return to work, or to work continuously, for reasons connected with the birth.

The public sector initial maternity leave allowance is 60 days with full pay initially and with a further allowance of 100 days of unremunerated leave thereafter.

There is no paternity leave allowance for private sector employees.

However, public sector employees, who become fathers, are entitled to three consecutive working days of paternity leave.

Khoja: UAE Labour Law states female employees are entitled to 45 calendar days’ maternity leave with full pay provided they have served a minimum of one year’s continuous employment. Employees who have served less than one year of continuous employment are entitled to 45 calendar days' leave at half pay. In addition, female employees are entitled to a maximum of 100 (consecutive or non-consecutive) calendar days of unpaid leave if they are unable to return to work as a result of a pregnancy or childbirth related illness which has been certified by the relevant competent health authority.

DIFC Employment Law provides for female employees to receive 3 months of maternity leave provided that they have served a year's continuous employment by the eighth week before the expected week of childbirth.

Pay during maternity leave is 45 days at full pay and 45 days at half pay.

Adoption leave

Khoja: As per UAE Labour Law there is no entitlement to adoption leave.

DIFC Employment Law provides that a female employee adopting a child younger than three months is entitled to the same leave as maternity leave.

Mourning leave

McGeoch: There is no concept of mourning leave under private sector rules, although, in practice, as a matter of convention and good manners, many companies do in fact grant their employees a few days of paid leave in the event of the death of a close relative.

In the case of civil servants, there is an allowance of five days mourning leave (on full pay) where the death of the employee’s father, mother, son daughter or wife occurs and three days if the event of the death of a more remote relative (grandmother, grandfather etc.) or of a brother or sister.

On the death of her husband, a Muslim woman, who is employed in the public sector, is entitled to a special mourning leave (ida’) of four months and 10 days on full pay. There is no such leave entitlement for married Muslim women employed in the private sector.

Hajj leave/special leave

McGeoch: Under Labour Law provisions, all Muslim employees in the private sector are entitled to 30 days of unpaid leave, once during their period of service, in order to perform the Hajj (pilgrimage).

For public sector employees, there is a Hajj leave allowance of just

15 days. However, in this case the leave is fully paid and will be granted twice during the employee’s civil servicer career, subject to a 10 year gap between the occasions on which Hajj leave is applied for.

Khoja: UAE Labour Law provides Hajj leave, which is unpaid leave for

30 days available once during the employment for a Muslim employee to perform Hajj.

As per DIFC Employment law, every Muslim employee is entitled to take up to 30 days of special leave, without pay, in order to perform Hajj.

Educational and exceptional leave

McGeoch: For the public sector there are other categories of leave such as ‘educational leave’ and ‘exceptional leave’. A civil servant who wishes to pursue a full-time course of study may be granted formal leave of absence (i.e. ‘educational leave’) by his or her Ministry or other government department.

Similarly, public sector employees may be granted ‘exceptional leave’ in order (for example) to represent the UAE at some international sporting event or participate in a government sponsored cultural exchange or to attend an international festival as an official UAE delegate. In both these cases, the employee is entitled to his or her full remuneration. There are no corresponding leave entitlements available under statute for private sector employees.

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Information provided by Sara Khoja, Partner at Clyde & Co Employees of the public sector are subject to different leave entitlements depending on the particular government authority they work for and the Emirate in which they work. Different rules can apply to civil servants in different emirates.

Some of the types of leave applicable to employees of the federal government, who are governed by Civil Service Law, Federal Law No. 21 of 2001, are as follows:

  • Sick leave
  • Maternity leave
  • Emergency leave
  • Study leave
  • Special leave
  • Unpaid special leave
  • Periodical leave
  • Nurture leave
  • Bereavement leave
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