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22 Dec 2021

United Arab Emirates: How will your business embrace the new working week?


Earlier this month the United Arab Emirates ("UAE") opened the way for businesses to break away from the traditional Friday/Saturday weekend and align themselves with the majority of the world. The change is aimed at facilitating stronger international business links and opportunities for thousands of local UAE and multinational companies, through smoother financial, trade and economic transactions with countries that already follow a Saturday/Sunday weekend. The shift should better align the UAE with global markets and transactions driving global stock markets, banks and financial institutions.

A new working week for all?

On Tuesday, 7 December 2021 the UAE Government announced that from 1 January 2022:

  • Federal government employees will move to a 4 ½ day working week with the weekend compromising a half day on Friday through to Sunday.
  • This change also applies to schools, courts, and government ministries.
  • Working from home and flexible working will be encouraged on Fridays and Friday prayers will start after 1.15pm to accommodate the changes.

What does this mean for the private sector?

  • As at the date of this briefing note, there has been no equivalent announcement for the private sector, including for businesses based on the mainland which are subject to the UAE Labour Law, those based in the Dubai International Financial Centre ("DIFC") who are subject to the DIFC Employment Law, or those based in the Abu Dhabi Global Market ("ADGM") who are subject to the ADGM Employment Regulations. Therefore, private sector companies are not currently obliged to follow suit.
    • Subject to the announcement or publication of further guidance or a change in the law:
      - it will be up to each private sector employer to decide whether to adopt a Saturday/Sunday weekend and any arrangements to enable employees to attend Friday afternoon prayers; and
      -it will not be mandatory to allow employees time off on a Friday afternoon,
      provided that employers continue to comply with applicable laws in the jurisdiction in which they are based regarding working hours and days (which, in mainland UAE, will be subject to certain changes with effect from 2 February 2022, when Federal Law 33/2021 (the "New Labour Law") comes into force) .

    Key considerations

    The main points for private sector employers to consider include the following:

    • Will you shift your working week? What are the economic, social, and operational drivers for the business to do so? To what extent does your business operate in, and work with, other parts of the Middle East, where the week does not encompass a Saturday/Sunday weekend?
    • How will you implement the change? Will you directly involve employees in the decision-making process? For example, by conducting a workplace survey to understand the appetite for and concerns around a new working week?
    • How will you arrange the work day on Friday? For example, will all or some employees be given the flexibility of working from home on Fridays and/or arranging their Friday working hours on a flexi-time basis?
    • If employees are permitted to work a half day or reduced hours on a Friday, how flexible will you be with what hours they work, i.e. will there still be core hours? Will there be any overall reduction to total weekly hours, or will time off on a Friday be conditional on current hours still being worked each week? Will performance targets change and how will hours be monitored?

    Employment contracts should be updated to reflect any changes to working arrangements, and employers should agree these with employees in advance of the changes being implemented (i.e. before 1 January 2022 if you intend to implement the new arrangements in line with the public sector).

    Currently, the definition of "Work Week" in the DIFC Employment Law (which is mainly relevant for the purposes of identifying categories of part-time workers and calculating portions of a work week for related pay and entitlements) expressly excludes Fridays and Saturdays. The DIFC Employment Law may be amended in due course so that the "Work Week" could include Fridays.

    Discrimination risks

    • The introduction of the New Labour Law will mean that a number of characteristics will now attract protection from discrimination, including race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, ethnic origin, and disability. The New Labour Law provides employees with protection against inequality of treatment or opportunities in the workplace based on the aforementioned characteristics, and there are similar protections in the DIFC Employment Law and ADGM Employment Regulations.
    • If moving to the new working week, it will be important to allow Muslim employees to attend Friday prayers, as there would be potential discrimination risks for not doing so. Careful thought should be given to how this is managed to ensure fairness across the staff population.
    • So far, no compensation or other remedies for employees have been set out in the New Labour Law in respect of discrimination in the workplace. However, an employer may be liable to general fines of between AED 5,000 and AED 1,000,000 for violation of the provisions of the New Labour Law and its Executive Regulations.

    For more information on the New Labour Law, listen to our recent podcast.

    Get in touch

    If you have any queries relating to the working week or New Labour Law, please contact Kiersten Lucas, Emily Aryeetey or Laura Anderson in our employment, pensions and incentives team, or your usual contact at Stephenson Harwood Middle East.