Employees in the UAE must now obtain a sick note from their doctor on the first day of their absence from work.

Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has declared that all private and public medical facilities have been notified of the new rule.

Employees in the country are entitled to 15 days fully paid sick leave, and following that, half pay for the next 15 days. The new law raises questions about whether employees in the Emirates are taking more sick leave than their counterparts in other countries.

“Many people take sick leave more often than they need to as they see the 15 days’ full pay as an allowance,” said Steve MacLaren, regional head of distribution, human capital & benefits at Al Futtaim Willis Co. LLC. “If this was stopped or reduced, employers would be able to give longer paid sick leave, as 15 days is not long for serious illnesses.

“The current rules are there with the aim of protecting employers, but this is not the case. Employees do abuse the 15 days and consequently we seem not to be able to move into a longer period for full pay, which is greater than 15 days. It’s a bit of a vicious circle,” said MacLaren.

Online reactions to the new law have not been positive on the whole – hinting at a likelihood of increased discontent from employees. “There will be dissatisfaction,” said Maclaren. “If an employee is ill, they should not have to go to a doctor to get a note.

“An alternative solution could be to have employers require a DHA sick note after two days of sick leave. Before this, the infirm employee could call one of the tele medicine companies, with the aim of avoiding the need for a DHA sick note straight away,” added Maclaren.

John Coleman, HR business partner at Land Drilling Operations, employs a number of people in Dubai. He said: “We would not penalise an employee if the sick note was not backdated. I am aware that some organisations already require sick notes for one day’s absence for blue-collar employees, but I suspect they have a large workforce with a doctor on site.

“The new approach will create a headache for employees if they are required to go to the doctor on the first day of feeling unwell. It also means extra cost for employers as I assume that employees get the DHS60 for the official sick note reimbursed. There is also a risk that employees will come to work sick and spread flu and other illnesses.

“On the plus side, it will stop people taking an unofficial day off. And I would think clinics will be happy with the extra visits, although this may push medical costs up,” concluded Coleman.

In Abu Dhabi, authorities have taken a different approach to managing sick leave – an online system has been launched that allows employers to verify to validity of sick notes handed in by employees.

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