What is ‘pro bono’?
The words ‘pro bono’ are Latin: they mean ‘for the public benefit.’
In 2009, the DIFC Courts were applauded by the region’s legal community for implementing the first Pro Bono Programme of free legal advice in the Middle East, which was in turn derived from a need in the community for pro bono legal representation. This initiative allows individuals who cannot afford a lawyer the ability to seek free advice and representation from volunteer lawyers and is headed by the Pro Bono Programme Leader, Amna Al Owais. The Programme is a public expression of the DIFC Courts’ mission to provide swift, transparent and accessible justice to DIFC Court users and to ensure that all parties are on equal footing in proceedings before the Courts, which is supported by the Academy of Law. On 30 June 2015, Pro Bono Programme was transferred from DIFC Courts to the Academy of Law.
A successful applicant may use a full range of legal services, from basic advice to full case management and representation in proceedings. Individuals who meet the eligibility criteria (explained below) will have their case details sent to all the volunteer firms.
Legal advice offered by volunteer practitioners will focus on issues that fall, or might fall, within the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction. Legal assistance will not be provided on matters which are criminal in nature or governed by personal laws, such as family or inheritance laws, as well as those originating from organisations or transactions outside the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction.
The Academy of Law Pro Bono Programme (“Pro Bono Programme or Programme”) is only applicable to the Court of First Instance, and pro bono services cannot apply to those bringing claims in the Small Claims Tribunal. If the case is to progress into the Court of Appeal or an additional claim is to be lodged, both the pro bono litigant and the volunteer practitioner agree to continue the representation into the appeal or additional claim.
What is a Pro Bono clinic?
Pro Bono Clinic
Periodically throughout the year, the Programme can be accessed through a Pro Bono (free legal advice) Clinic outreach initiative. Clinics are held bi-weekly on Thursdays in the Academy of Law Office. They offer potential pro bono litigants one-to-one quality time, in confidence, with a registered pro bono volunteer practitioner who is always legally qualified and is often a specialist in-house legal counsel. He/she can advise the potential litigant on possible case scenarios and offer a course of action – or can provide the pro bono litigant with a wide range of options for further consideration. No appointments are necessary for the Pro Bono Clinics, which operate on a walk-in, first-come, first-served basis.
Who is eligible?
The Pro Bono Programme is a scheme set up for those who cannot afford legal representation. The main criterion, therefore, is the need for legal representation based on the inability to afford it. The merits of the case – that is, whether the case has a reasonable chance of success if it goes to trial – are also taken into consideration.
Who can volunteer?
Academy of Law welcome new volunteer lawyers and we have recently broadened our rules to encourage wider support from the UAE legal community.
Do Volunteers need to register?
Law firms and individual practitioners wishing to participate in the Pro Bono Programme should be registered and in good standing under Part I or Part II of the Academy of Law’ Register of Legal Practitioners. Each firm or individual practitoners should complete a registration form (which can be found here) law firms should include the contact details of the firm’s liaison associate for pro bono matters. This should then be submitted to the Programme Leader (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Pro Bono Fundraising
The DIFC Courts’ Annual Legal Gala Dinner now takes place in Dubai each October. A specific element of this major legal occasion is to raise funds in support of the Pro Bono Programme.
DIFC Employment Law FAQs
1. If your employer is based in the DIFC, what law would be applicable for the purposes of your employment?
DIFC Law No 4 of 2005, as amended by DIFC Law No 3 of 2012 (the “DIFC Employment Law”). The DIFC Employment Law is applicable to those employees working for an employer with a place of business in the DIFC and who are based or ordinarily work in the DIFC.
2. If your employer is not based out of the DIFC, can you opt into the DIFC’s jurisdiction?
Your employer cannot opt into the DIFC jurisdiction for the purposes of your employment. If you work outside of the DIFC and within the UAE, you will be subject to the Federal Law No 8 of 1980 (the “UAE Labour Law”) and the relevant regulations if you are within an offshore jurisdiction.
3. Are you entitled to a written contract of employment?
Yes. Pursuant to Article 13 of the DIFC Employment Law, you are entitled to a written contract which must specify the following as a minimum: 1) names of employer and employee; 2) commencement date; 3) remuneration; 4) pay period; 5) hours or days of work; 6) holiday entitlement and pay and national holidays and pay; 7) notice period; 8) designation and responsibilities; 9) period of employment; 10) place of work; and 11) disciplinary/grievance procedures.
4. What is the difference between a limited contract and unlimited contract?
No distinction is drawn between the two types of contracts under the DIFC Employment Law. Contract of Employment is defined within the DIFC Employment Law in Schedule 1 (3) as “any agreement whether for a limited or unlimited period …”.
5. Are employers obligated to provide pay slips to their employees?
A written itemised pay statement is required to be given by the employer under Article 14 of the DIFC Employment Law. This does not necessarily have to be in hard copy – electronic access is sufficient. If employers do not provide a wage slip, this is a contravention of the DIFC Employment Law.
6. Is there a requirement for an employer to split the wages of an employee into basic salary and allowances?
No, there is no requirement to split wages. Employers are entitled to provide a full wage with no allowances if they choose to do so. However they will need to be reminded that this will increase their gratuity liability upon termination of the employee’s employment because the gratuity will be payable upon the full salary. Most employers in the DIFC provide a basic salary and allowances to avoid this situation.
7. Is your employer obliged to provide you with health insurance?
Yes. Article 53 of the DIFC Employment Law makes it mandatory on every employer to provide its employees with health insurance.
8. Are your dependents able to seek coverage from the employer?
There is no legal obligation on the employer to provide health insurance to the employee’s dependents; however many employers within the DIFC offer medical insurance for the employee’s dependents also.
9. What are the maximum weekly working hours?
Article 21 states that the maximum weekly working hours shall not exceed 48 hours for each seven (7) day period unless the employee has consented to the additional hours.
10. What are the laws regarding overtime?
Whilst not expressly mentioned within the DIFC Employment Law, Article 22 stipulates that an employer shall not require or alow an employee to directly or indirectly work excessive hours detrimental to the health and safety of the employee.
11. Are employees entitled to rest breaks?
Article 26 specifies that where an employee’s working hours are more than six (6) hours, the employee is entitled to rest and prayer breaks of not less than one (1) hour in aggregate. In addition, the DIFC Employment Law states that an employee is entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of not less than twenty four (24) hours in each seven (7) day work period (Article 25).
12. Can your employer seek recovery of the costs it has incurred with respect to the application of your visa and recruitment if the relationship sours?
Whilst the DIFC Employment Law is silent on this, there has been some case law which demonstrates that in the Court’s view, the hiring of an employee is a risk borne by the employer and as such costs of recruitment and visa costs cannot be recovered from the employee. This however is likely to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
13. Are you entitled to an annual flight ticket allowance?
There is no legal obligation upon an employer to provide you with an annual flight allowance. This is a benefit afforded to an employee by an employer and is provided on a discretionary basis.
14. Is your employer entitled to withhold your passport?
Your employer is not entitled to withhold your passport.
15. Are you entitled to claim gratuity? If so, on what basis?
An employee who has completed one year or more of continuous service is entitled to an end of service gratuity payment at the termination of employment in accordance with these guidelines:
21 days’ basic wage for each year of the first five years of service.
30 days’ basic wage for each additional year of service, provided the total of the gratuity shall not exceed the wages of two years of service.
The daily rate for the employee’s basic wage shall be calculated based on the number of days in the year.
Where the termination occurs prior to the end of any full year of employment, the gratuity payment shall be calculated on a proportionate basis.
In cases where an employer has provided employees with a pension scheme, the terminated employee has the option to choose between participating in the pension scheme and receiving the end of service gratuity payment.
There are limited circumstances under which no end of service gratuity is payable to an employee, for example, in case of summary dismissal.
16. Is gratuity calculated on basic salary or your full salary?
Gratuity is calculated on basic salary and on your final salary. Any allowances do not count for the purposes of the gratuity calculation.
17. Are commissions and bonuses considered part of the basic wage for the purposes of calculating gratuity?
The definition of basic wage under the Defined Terms of the DIFC Employment Law is very clear. Basic wage means the employee’s wage excluding any portion of an employee’s wage received in-kind or as allowance for housing, travel, currency exchange (cashier), children’s education, social and entertainment or any other type of allowance, bonus or commission payment or overtime pay …”. Accordingly, commissions and bonuses will not be considered for the purposes of calculating gratuity.
18. What is the maximum period of time an employer can put an employee on probation? Can this period be extended?
The DIFC Employment Law does not specify probation periods for employees. However, periods of three (3) to six (6) months are not uncommon for junior and mid-level employees. For senior management, it is not unusual for shorter probationary periods, or none at all, subject to the agreement between the parties.
19. What are the minimum requirements for notice periods?
The employer and employee shall have the right to terminate the employment relationship provided either party has given a notice of:
– Seven (7) days if the period of continuous employment is less than three (3) months;
– Thirty (30) days if continuous employment is less than five (5) years; and
– Ninety (90) days if continuous employment is five (5) years or more.
The employment law allows the employer and the employee to agree to a shorter or longer period, or to waive notice or agree to payment in lieu of notice.
20. Am I entitled to public holidays?
Yes. Article 32 sets out an employee’s entitlement to public holidays. An employee is entitled to their full daily wage for that holiday so long as it falls on a working day. If you are asked to work on a public holiday, then you are entitled to either one of the following: (1) a day off in lieu; (2) a payment in lieu; or (3) a pro-rated amount relating to the period of time worked.
21. How many holidays are you entitled to in a year?
Under Article 27(1), an employee is entitled to a minimum of twenty (20) working days per annum. This is the minimum amount so employers can provide more holidays but cannot provide less than the threshold.
22. Are employees able to roll over accrued but untaken annual leave?
Article 27(2) provides that an employee can take over vacation leave up to a maximum of twenty (20) working days into the next calendar year for a maximum period of twelve (12) months after which this entitlement shall expire.
23. Can you take time off work to look for alternative employment during office hours?
Article 54(1) permits an employee to seek alternative employment during office hours so long as the employee has not been terminated for cause. However, the employee must have been working for at least two (2) years for this entitlement to be provided by the employer.
24. Is an employee entitled to ante-natal care during office hours?
Yes. Article 55 affords this right to employees and allows them to take time off during working hours. The employer can ask for a medical practitioner’s certificate confirming the pregnancy and evidence of appointments.
25. Is the employer required to provide the employee with a reference letter? What are the minimum requirements for a reference letter?
There is no obligation under the DIFC Employment Law to provide reference letters to employees; however, it is market practice to do so.
26. What if an employee is terminated and not paid their dues? What are the employee’s options?
An employee must be paid their outstanding dues upon termination in accordance with Article 18 of the DIFC Employment Law. Article 18 states that an employer must pay amounts owing to an employee within fourteen (14) days. Failure to do so will result in a daily penalty equivalent to the last daily wage for each day the employer is in arrears.
27. Is an employee entitled to reasons for their dismissal?
If an employee has been working for the employer for a period of less than one (1) year, the employee is not entitled to reasons for their dismissal. However, under Article 60 of the DIFC Employment Law, if you have worked for over a year, then as an employee you are entitled to be provided a written statement of the reasons for their dismissal.
28. What is the retirement age in the DIFC?
There is no statutory retirement age in the DIFC.
29. Am I entitled to a pension scheme?
Only a UAE national (who holds a Family Book) or a GCC national (who registers with its local pension scheme) are entitled to register. Ex-pats are able to maintain their pension scheme from their home jurisdiction if they so choose but they will have to waive their right to gratuity upon termination of their employment.
30. Are employees entitled to reduced working hours during Ramadan?
During the Holy Month of Ramadan, the ordinary working hours of a Muslim employee observing the fast shall not exceed six hours per day. All other employees are not entitled to reduced working hours.
31. Are Muslim employees entitled to perform the Hajj pilgrimage?
Muslim employees who have completed one year of continuous employment are entitled to thirty (30) days of unpaid leave for the Hajj pilgrimage once during their employment.
32. Is there any concept of maternity leave and paternity leave within the DIFC?
The DIFC Employment Law provides for maternity leave under Article 37. The minimum entitlement under Article 37(1) is sixty five (65) working days: 33 days on full pay and 32 days on half pay. There is no concept of paternity leave within the DIFC Employment Law, although some employers do afford some discretionary time off.
33. If I no longer wish to reside and work in the DIFC and I wish to return to my home country, am I eligible for repatriation?
Yes. An employee who no longer wishes to work in the DIFC and would like to return to their home jurisdiction is entitled to a one way economy class ticket to their home jurisdiction. There is no obligation on the employer to provide baggage allowance for the shipment of the employee’s personal belongings; however some employers do provide an allowance in such circumstances.
34. Can an employer extend an employee’s visa until they have found alternative employment?
The legal position is that once an employee’s employment has come to an end and they are paid all outstanding dues, the visa should be cancelled simultaneously. However, some employers afford employees to remain on their visa sponsorship for an extended period to allow them to find alternative employment. However this is not an obligation on the employer.
35. What are the sick leave provisions within the DIFC?
Article 34(1) states that an employee is entitled to a maximum of sixty (60) working days of paid sick leave in any twelve (12) month period. However Article 36 states that if an employee takes more than the sixty (60) days in a year, the employer may terminate the employment with immediate effect.
36. Are restrictive covenants contained within an employment contract enforceable in the DIFC?
The concept of restrictive covenants is not contained within the DIFC Employment Law. However, if contained within the contract and are drafted reasonably, the DIFC Courts will consider enforcing restrictive covenants and have the power to award injunctive relief to stop the other part from doing what they perceive to be in breach of the covenant.
37. Is there a concept of discrimination within the DIFC?
Yes. Discrimination is dealt with under Article 58 of the DIFC Employment Law.
38. What are the protected characteristics within the DIFC?
The DIFC Employment Law specifically prohibits an employer from engaging in discriminatory treatment or conduct on the basis of an employee’s sex, marital status, race, nationality, religion and/or mental or physical disability.
39. What is termination for cause?
An employer or employee may terminate employment without notice “for cause” in circumstance where the conduct of one party warrants termination and where a reasonable employer or employee would have terminated the employment. However, termination for cause does not apply where an employee has been terminated for having exhausted his (or her) annual maximum sick leave entitlement.
40. What if you injure yourself at work? What can you do?
Where an employee sustains an injury as a result of an employment accident arising out of or in the course of his employment, or dies as a result of an employment accident or contracts an occupational disease, the employer shall pay compensation to the employee in accordance with the provisions of Schedule 2 of the amended law equal to no less than twenty four (24) months wages calculated on the basis of the last monthly wage the employee was paid before his injury.
Where an employee dies as a result of an accident or illness arising out of or in the course of his employment, the employer shall pay compensation to his named dependants equal to no less than twenty four (24) months wages calculated on the basis of the last monthly wage the employee was paid before his death.
41. Can an employer apply an immigration ban on you in the DIFC?
There is no concept of labour bans within the DIFC. However if an Authorised Individual (defined under the DIFC Regulatory Law) has committed a breach of the Regulatory Law, then there are sanctions and censures which the DFSA can apply.
42. What are the requirements for visa cancellation within the DIFC?
Usually if there is no dispute between the parties, the employee and the employer or its representative can attend at the Government Service Office (“GSO”) and apply for the cancellation of the employee’s visa. The employee will have to sign a visa cancellation form confirming that all dues and entitlements have been received (usually a cheque is handed at the time of cancellation) and deliver up the original passport for the visa cancellation and hand back their Emirates ID and DIFC Employment card.
43. What is the difference between the Small Claims Tribunal (“SCT”) and the Court of First Instance (“CFI”)?
The DIFC Courts is structured so as to provide claimants the opportunity to bring their claim in an appropriate forum. Accordingly, the SCT is a forum in which claimants can bring employment claims up to a value of AED 500,000 or up to AED 1,000,000 if both parties consent. Any claim over and above the thresholds listed above would automatically fall within the ambit of the CFI. The key difference between the two forums is that in the CFI you would normally have legal representation as well as the fact that the losing party is likely to pay the winning party’s legal costs.
44. How do I file a claim against my previous employer?
Please visit the DIFC Courts in Building 4 of the DIFC Gate Precinct and speak with one of the members of staff who can advise you on how to file a claim. It will be done electronically.
45. What are the court fees for filing a claim?
In order to file an SCT claim, the filing fee is 2% of the claim amount (minimum USD 100). If you are unable to afford this filing fee, you can seek a waiver from the DIFC Courts Registry but you will have to demonstrate that you do not have the means to pay the fee.
46. What are the thresholds for bringing a claim within the SCT?
To bring an employment claim within the SCT, the claim amount would be for a maximum of AED 500,000. However in employment cases only, if both parties agree to keep a claim within the SCT, the limit can be increased to AED 1,000,000.
47. What are the advantages of bringing a claim within the SCT?
The SCT has many advantages:
(1) The process is quick and relatively inexpensive;
(2) You may be able to reach a settlement at the first conciliatory hearing before a Judicial Officer in a very short space of time;
(3) The proceedings are held in private and therefore there are no references to parties names in public or on the website; and
(4) Parties must attend the hearings themselves – there is no right to legal representation for either party during the hearings.
48. How quickly can I obtain a judgment in the SCT?
The process within the SCT is fairly prompt. From the filing of your initial claim, a conciliatory hearing can take place within a two week period. If no resolution is reached, then the process can take a further 4-6 weeks. Judgment would normally be received within 3 months of initiating the proceedings.
49. What rights does the CFI give to an employee?
All matters are public so there is no confidentiality in terms of the parties. This is usually something companies do not like as it is a reputational risk for them. Moreover, whilst the costs of initiating proceedings with the CFI can be expensive (Court filing fee along with legal costs), if the employee were to win the case, they would normally be entitled to their legal costs paid by the losing party.
50. What language do the DIFC Courts operate in?
Compiled by Stephenson Harwood Middle East LLP