This article was written by Ali Kamal, Paralegal at Norton Rose Fulbright (Middle East) LLP

Except for UAE nationals (and, in general, GCC nationals) all UAE residents need permission from the UAE Ministry of Labour (MOL) to work, and, from the UAE Immigration Department to live in the UAE. Each Emirate in the UAE has its own Labour Department and Immigration Department and for the most part their policies are consistent with each other. The same regulations may, however, be interpreted or applied differently by each Emirate.

Typically a one-year work ban will be imposed on an employee by the MOL, and stamped on the employee’s passport, upon termination of his/her employment if the employee has breached the terms of his/her employment contract, the UAE Labour Law or labour regulations. This ban can arise if, for example, an employee has resigned during the course of a fixed term contract, or if (regardless of whether an employee is on a fixed or non-fixed term contract) an employee fails to comply with his/her statutory notice period.  

A six-month work ban will be imposed by the MOL on an employee if his/her employment contract is terminated prior to the completion of two years of continuous service (even if he/she does not have a fixed term contract) and the employee does not fall under one of the categories of professionals permitted to transfer the sponsorship of their work permit to a different employer (see below).

The current MOL policy is not to impose a ban on an employee who is on a non-fixed term contract and who has completed more than two years of employment, or on an employee who is on a fixed term contract and has completed the term of that contract.

Currently, the following categories of employees are exempted by the MOL from receiving a six-month work ban and are permitted to transfer the sponsorship of their work permit to a different employer:

  • agricultural instructors;

  •  doctors, pharmacists and hospital attendants;

  • employees of private oil companies are entitled to transfer their sponsorship from one company or establishment to its counterpart (i.e. subsidiary) or to any governmental body;

  • engineers;

  • qualified accountants and auditors;

  • qualified administration officials (includes other professionals such as lawyers);

  • teachers; and

  • electronic and laboratory technicians;

provided always (where the transfer is from a private sector position to another private sector position) that:

  • the employee maintains the same position or higher (that is, in the same profession) with the new employer as occupied with the previous employer;

  •  the employee has a valid residence permit stamped on his/her passport;

  • the employee has completed at least one year of continuous employment with his/her previous employer; and

  •  the employee has obtained the consent of the sponsor to transfer his/her sponsorship to the new employer.

It is possible for an employee who receives an MOL work ban to apply to have the ban lifted provided he/she obtains a no objection certificate from his/her previous employer, or if the following criteria are met:

  •  the individual holds a high school diploma or more advanced qualification; and

  • the minimum annual salary for the new job isAED5,000 for high school diploma holders,AED7,000 for diploma holders andAED12,000 for the holder of a bachelors degree.

An employer is generally permitted to include a non-compete clause in an employment contract (irrespective of whether it is a fixed or non fixed term contract) provided that the employment contract has been registered with the MOL, and the MOL has deemed the duration and scope of the non-compete clause to be reasonable at the time of registration.  It is possible for an employee to have his/her non-compete clause lifted and this typically involves obtaining the consent of the previous employer.

It should kept in mind that most UAE free zones have in place their own set of employment regulations, and the free zone authorities do not apply to the MOL for work bans on behalf of employers. This means that the issue of a work ban does not arise when an employee in any such free zone wishes to take up employment with another company, regardless of whether the company is onshore in the UAE or in a free zone.

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