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08 Jul 2024

Mind how you go: Implementing the UAE’s Mental Health Law in the workplace

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Federal Law No. 10 of 2023 on Psychiatric Health (the "Mental Health Law") was enacted in November 2023 and has been in force in the UAE since 30 May 2024. It aims to provide protection for anyone who is a "Psychiatric Patient", including employees.

A "Psychiatric Patient" is defined in the Mental Health Law as being a person diagnosed with "disturbances in thinking, mood, behaviour, perception, memory or other mental abilities… leading to a defect in the social, employment or educational functions or psychological suffering of the person…". Whilst the specific diagnoses that might amount to such disturbances are not specifically listed in the law, and employers would need to confirm the symptoms an employee is suffering from, the expectation is that this would include conditions such as anxiety or stressor-related disorders, neurodevelopmental conditions such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), personality disorders mood disorders like major depressive or bipolar disorders, through to psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

The Mental Health Law prohibits employers from terminating the employment of an employee who is a Psychiatric Patient, or placing restrictive measures on their employment, unless such action has been sanctioned by an official report issued by a designated medical committee.

Whilst the Mental Health Law does not specify examples of restrictive measures that are caught, actions that are typically considered detrimental or restrictive in the employment context include demotion or denial of promotion, salary reduction, excessive micromanagement, forced leave of absence, exclusion from projects or teams, role or team reassignment, or the imposition of part-time or other modes or work.

What are the penalties for breach?

The Mental Health Law does not provide the Psychiatric Patient with entitlement to compensation in case of unlawful dismissal or the imposition of other unsanctioned restrictive measures. Moreover, the Mental Health Law does not substantially change or enhance the existing protections against disability discrimination for employees in the UAE, which are not extensive. This may limit the incentive for an employee to raise a complaint, and thus threat of legal proceedings.

Whilst some employers may believe that this affords them wide discretion and flexibility in dealing, or dispensing, with employees suffering from mental health conditions, they would be wise to take care to ensure that they comply with the requirements of the Mental Health Law and prohibition on disability discrimination in the UAE Labour Law (being Federal Decree Law No. 33 of 2021 (as amended)) to avoid incurring an administrative fine which may be anywhere between AED 5,000 – AED 1 million as well as the potential adverse reputational impact of being seen as an employer that is insensitive to wellbeing and mental health needs in the workplace.

What does this mean for UAE employers?

The protection for employees introduced by the Mental Health Law means employers should navigate the management of challenging issues in the employment relationship (such as performance and disciplinary processes) with heightened diligence. Widespread media coverage of the new law will have made employees increasingly aware of their rights under this new law, and so employers should be prepared for the additional scrutiny of, and challenge to, their actions.

Employers should ensure that they have a valid and documented reason for terminating any employee supported by an appropriate process and that they obtain the necessary medical report from the competent committee before dismissing a Psychiatric Patient. This will be assisted by having clear procedures in place to facilitate obtaining the medical report, which may necessitate the cooperation of the employee and their personal physician.

There are several other proactive steps that employers can take to integrate the requirements of this law into their HR and employment practices:

  • Policies: review and update internal employment policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Mental Health Law.

  • Training and awareness: Provide training for HR and other managers on the implications for managing employees with mental health concerns.

  • Eligibility: Establish a protocol for determining that an employee is a "Psychiatric Patient".

  • External Medical Committee liaison: Establish a protocol for liaising with the prescribed medical committee to obtain necessary reports when considering the dismissal of an employee who is a "Psychiatric Patient".

  • Documentation and record-keeping: Maintain an audit trail of all employment decisions and actions taken in relation to employees to be able to substantiate compliance with the law.

Next steps

If you have any queries about how the Mental Health Law impacts your HR practices, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. 

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