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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 January 2019

'Can I take off Christmas Day as a religious holiday?'

The reader's employer says she is not entitled to a day off

UAE residents sing Christmas songs in Mall of the Emirates. Sammy Dallal / The National
UAE residents sing Christmas songs in Mall of the Emirates. Sammy Dallal / The National

I am a Christian, so it is important for me to celebrate mass on Christmas day. As this is a religious holiday for me, as well as many others, what does the law say about us having a day off for this. My immediate manager says it is not possible even though there are a lot of staff here who are Christian and my friend works for a business where everyone is given a day off. Can I insist for religious reasons? MV, Dubai

Christmas Day is not a registered public holiday in the UAE so there is no legal right for anyone to have the day off work. Only the specific dates and Islamic holidays published by the UAE government are statutory days of leave for employees. If an individual wants to take a day off work at any other time, they must apply for annual leave, which is then subject to approval by the employer. While a few companies give staff members an additional holiday for Christmas, this is purely at their individual discretion.

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I lived in the UAE for almost two years and had to return home due to a family emergency. I left behind an unpaid telecoms bill. Until now I have stayed in my own country but I want to go back to the UAE to get another job. My question is whether UAE immigration can detect my unpaid bills and stop me entering the country? How can I return without a problem? CL, The Philippines

If someone does not pay a bill with one of the telecommunications companies and it is outstanding for some time, the company has the right to register a police case against an individual. This could well lead to an immigration ban. If this is the case, CL may find she is banned from re-entering the UAE and could be detained at the airport.

As she knows that there is an outstanding bill, CL simply needs to contact the company to whom she owes money and arrange to settle this before attempting to return to the UAE. She is legally obliged to pay the bill so the most logical course of action is to repay the debt sooner rather than later, as if she does return, she will need to settle the bill anyway.

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I am a teacher and our organisation changed our contracts from three-year fixed contracts to unlimited contracts. The new contracts stipulate that employees can only resign in the month of January by giving six months' notice of their intention to leave. What would happen if an employee did not give notice and did not return after the summer vacation? In this scenario the employee would not have any outstanding debts (rental, utilities etc) and would be paid two months over the summer vacation but would obviously forfeit any end of service gratuity. Would this lead to any legal problems or be an obstacle to returning to the UAE and other GCC countries? TN, Abu Dhabi

I understand that TN works for a private school, rather than a government institutions so the provisions of UAE Labour Law will apply. Firstly, an employer cannot make arbitrary changes to an employee’s contract without their agreement, so I assume this change was agreed with all staff. It is common for teachers to be on fixed contracts but unlimited contracts are generally preferred for their flexibility.

It is unusual for a teacher to have a six-month notice period and that seems rather excessive considering the role. It is also unusual for anyone to have to give more than three months’ notice but if the contract has been signed and accepted by both parties that will be a valid clause.

If a person in this situation did not return, they would be in breach of contract for leaving without having given proper notice. UAE Labour Law makes it clear that an employee can only leave without notice in two specific conditions, per Article 121 which states: "The worker may leave work without notice in the following cases: a - should the employer breach his obligations towards the worker, as set forth in the contract or the law, b - should the employer or the legal representative thereof assault the worker." Neither of these conditions are the case here.

The consequences of leaving without notice would be the forfeiture of the end of service gratuity and an employment ban if the employer requests this. They are not likely to get an immigration ban but they would not be able to work in the UAE for six to 12 months. It is also likely that they would not get a clear police clearance certificate, also known as a good conduct certificate, which may be required to obtain a teaching job in another country.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with over 25 years’ experience. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE

The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only

Updated: December 9, 2018 02:23 PM

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