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Attorney General announces fines to prevent spread of COVID-19

The UAE Attorney General has issued resolution No. (38) of 2020 following Cabinet Decision No. 17 of 2020 regarding the implementation of regulations for spreading communicable diseases. The resolution covers 15 penalties, ranging from AED 500 to AED 50,000, which aim to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the UAE.

The Attorney General has clarified that the fine for not wearing medical masks in closed places can only be imposed on patients suffering from chronic diseases and on people who are suffering from symptoms of flu and cold and fail to maintain social distancing while among other people.

The following are the violations and associated fines as issued under the Attorney General’s resolution:

  • Fine for not complying with instructions of home quarantine and/or not following the guidelines under the Home Quarantine Guide– AED 50,000
  • Fine for patients who refuse mandatory hospitalisation or fail to take the prescribed medicines despite being alerted – AED 50,000
  • Fine for violating administrative closure of public places like shopping centres, malls, outdoor markets, gyms, public swimming pools, cinemas, clubs, parks and restaurants – AED 50,000 (Additionally, there is a fine of AED 500 for people caught visiting these public places)
  • Fine for organising social gatherings, meetings and public celebrations – AED 10,000 (Additionally, there is a fine of AED 5,000 for people attending the social gatherings and events)
  • Fine for not conducting a medical test upon request – AED 5,000
  • Fine for violating precautionary measures set by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention by people coming from nations affected by communicable diseases – AED 2,000
  • Fine for failure to observe health measures regarding regulation of roads, markets and other public places exempted from temporary closure – AED 3,000
  • Fine for failure to dispose of clothes, luggage or any temporary structures proved to be contaminated, which can’t be disinfected by the standard established methods – AED 3,000
  • Fine for unnecessary visits to hospitals and other health facilities – AED 1,000
  • Fine for exceeding the maximum number of allowed persons in a car (i.e. more than 3 persons in car) – AED 1,000
  • Fine for not wearing medical masks indoors and failure to maintain social distancing by persons suffering from chronic disease or having symptoms of flu and cold – AED 1,000
  • Fine for leaving home unnecessarily and without reason, except for important work or a genuine reason (purchase of essentials, medicines, etc.) – AED 2,000
  • Fine for violating provisions of the law when burying or transporting the body of a person who died from a communicable disease – AED 3,000
  • Fine for drivers failing to maintain hygiene and following sterilisation procedures in public transportation – AED 5,000
  • Fine for failure to take precautionary measures, failure for the crew of ships from the captain or shipping agent, as the case may be – AED 10,000

The National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Federal Prosecution has been entrusted with the task of implementation of the resolution and may seek assistance from local and public authorities as required.

The penalties shall be doubled in amount for repeat violators and if the violator commits a third offence, he will be referred to the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Federal Prosecution for appropriate action. Further, the violator must also bear the costs of any repairs for damages occurring due to the violation.

The resolution is a part of the government’s measures to combat the spread of coronavirus and to protect the health of citizens and residents of the UAE by curbing unnecessary gathering and outings.

Dubai Notary Public Services to be Provided Remotely

A recent circular from the Notary Public in Dubai confirmed that due to COVID-19 all Notary Public services, in all branches, would cease up till the 9th April 2020. Up until this date it has been confirmed that certain Notary Public services may be conducted remotely.

The following Notary Services can be conducted remotely:

  • i) Power of Attorney notarisation;
  • ii) Notarisation of legal notices;
  • iii) Acknowledgements;
  • iv) Notarisation of Local Service Agent Agreements;
  • v) Notarisation of Memorandums of Association and addendum’s thereto for civil companies.

All services relating to commercial companies’ memoranda and addenda have been transferred to Dubai Economy and are no longer dealt with by the Dubai Notary Public.

The remote working times for the Dubai Notary Public will be from 8am till 4pm from Sunday to Thursday.

The service requires a subscription to BOTIM and the Notary office will contact the attestor to the document through this video connection to establish identity and knowledge of the document which must be sent to the Dubai Notary Public’s dedicated email address in PDF format with an approved reference to the remote signing on the bottom of each page. The fees will be payable by credit card and the courier will deliver the document at a cost of AED21 to your address.

There is therefore no need to wait for 9th April 2020 before important notarisation’s are attended to and BSA is able to assist you in finalising the arrangements for notarial execution of your documents during this already stressful time.

Dentons announces US COVID-19 50-State Tracker

Dentons, the world’s largest law firm and the only global law firm operating in most of the countries where there is a significant outbreak of COVID-19, including in the US, today adds a COVID-19 50-State Tracker to a suite of client resources available publicly.

Dentons’ COVID-19 50-State Tracker provides an overview of key information for each US state and the District of Columbia, including reviews of state and local governmental orders, directives and financial assistance, official links, public restrictions, health and business directives, school closures and updates on courts and legislative sessions. Official links are provided where possible throughout the Index to ensure that the latest guidance and orders are available.

In addition to official links, the COVID-19 50-State Tracker will be updated regularly. Slated for future additions are information on remote online notarisation and eNotarisation, mortgage and rent payment relief and tele-medicine/tele-health. Those interested in regular COVID-19 updates can opt-in to an e-mail list.

Dentons, which has been a leader in advising and collaborating with the global legal and business communities, pledges to continue to share insights and best practices with clients and contacts around the world, and proactively support the business community as it navigates business challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dentons has developed multiple resources throughout Q1 2020 and these are available to the public and global business community at large through its COVID-19 hub on the Firm’s website.

About Dentons

Dentons is the world’s largest law firm, delivering quality and value to clients around the globe. Dentons is a leader on the Acritas Global Elite Brand Index, a BTI Client Service 30 Award winner and recognised by prominent business and legal publications for its innovations in client service, including founding Nextlaw Enterprise, Dentons’ wholly owned subsidiary of innovation, advisory and technology operating units. Dentons’ polycentric approach, commitment to inclusion and diversity and world-class talent challenge the status quo to advance client interests in the communities in which we live and work.

Pinsent Masons announces 2020 partner promotions

Multinational law firm Pinsent Masons has announced 17 new partners in its 2020 promotion round as it promotes outside of traditional legal services for the first time.

Hayley Boxall has been made partner in Forensic Accounting Services while director of Client Solutions David Halliwell has also been promoted to partner as the firm strengthens its capabilities as a professional services business with law at its core.

The remaining 15 new partners are from the firm’s five core global sectors; Energy, Financial Services, Infrastructure, Real Estate and Advanced Manufacturing & Technology.

The promotions, which take effect on 1 May, bring the total number of partners to 474 with female representation across the partnership reaching approximately 28%. This year, almost half of those promoted are women signalling the firm’s continued progress towards a position where promotions demographics reflect the pool from which candidates are drawn.

Richard Foley, senior partner at Pinsent Masons, says: “We are incredibly proud of the talent, skill and dedication of all of our people. As we all take stock and adjust to the challenges we face prompted by COVID-19, it’s heartening to have some positive news that helps us look to the future. Those promoted strengthen our position as a leading sector-focused, multinational legal services provider and mark an important step in our transition to become a professional services business with law at its core.

“The firm’s commitment to provide its clients with innovative, solutions-based legal services is the touchstone of our business. Now, more than ever, developing talent that supports this is critical as our clients grapple with the challenges posed by coronavirus.”

Pinsent Masons was one of the first law firms to establish an in-house forensic accounting team, offering clients a multi-disciplinary approach to disputes, consultancy services and investigations.

As the partner leading Client Solutions, David Halliwell works with a wide range of professionals across the firm to help clients transform the way they deliver legal services to their businesses, both through the firm’s existing portfolio of process, resourcing and technology solutions and through collaboration to create new ones.

The full list of those promoted to partner is as follows:

  • Dawn Allen (Financial Services, UK)
  • Simone Alphonse (Energy, Infrastructure, Australia)
  • Catherine Bendeich (Energy, Infrastructure, Australia)
  • Hayley Boxall (Forensic and Accounting Services, UK)
  • Matthew Brewer (Financial Services, UK)
  • Andrew Brydon (AMT, Infrastructure, UK)
  • Oliver Crowley (Financial Services, UK)
  • David Halliwell (Client Solutions, UK)
  • Karah Howard (Energy, Infrastructure, Hong Kong)
  • Gemma Kaplan (Financial Services, UK)
  • David Lancaster (Advanced Manufacturing & Technology, UK)
  • Nick McDonald (Energy, Real Estate, UK)
  • Ann-Marie Salmacis (Real Estate, UK)
  • Michael Smith (Real Estate, UK)
  • David Stoppelmann (Energy, Germany)
  • Alasdair Weir (Energy, infrastructure, UK)
  • Kathryn Wynn (Financial Services, UK)

If you would like to find out more information about Pinsent Masons, please visit: https://www.pinsentmasons.com/

The impact of defamation and privacy on social media

We are frequently asked the question: are we allowed to publish, post, republish any information, content, picture, video or data on COVID-19 when using our private social media accounts? After all, it is in the public interest and everyone is doing it!

In an era where often more questions arise than answers, the public is eager to read, share and explore everyone’s views on a particular topic. Whether you are journalists or reporters providing professional coverage, business owners responsible for your employees’ conduct, family members responsible for your children or dependants’ actions, we all need some guidance and practical answers, in order to be aware of the legal implications of how we use our social media.

Whilst naturally we are all expressing and discussing our thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 (and given the Governmental advice of self-isolation, this communication is largely via the internet), it is important to be aware of the potential legal implications that the dissemination of information and expressions of opinion or fact could have in the UAE.

Within the contents of this short article, we will outline the key points which individuals should be aware of before submitting and/or disseminating information, pictures, posts or any audio, audio-visual or written material regarding COVID-19 into the public domain. The points covered by this article are applicable to individuals, , patients, advice, corporations or any other form of information. The two major risks can be broadly summarised as an i) Invasion of Privacy and ii) Defamation.

Privacy. The right to a private and dignified family life is considered inherent in the UAE and is appropriately safeguarded by numerous applicable laws and regulations. The disclosure of information or secrets relating to someone’s private or family’s life will attract liability under the Penal Code, the Cyber Crimes Law as well as laws related to media and publications in UAE, if no prior consent is obtained from the individual. This can include an image, photo, short videos or any materials that expose individual(s) to the public without their consent, even for the purpose of public awareness.

To put this into the context of COVID-19, to expose an individual as exhibiting symptoms or as having the virus is likely to be interpreted as an invasion of an individual’s right to a private life. Furthermore, to take a picture of another person(s) in a public place and ‘disseminate it’ by publishing it online could also be interpreted as an invasion of privacy.

The UAE Criminal Court of Cassation issued a binding court judgement in relation to privacy laws in 2016, where it affirmed the imposition of serious sanctions against all entities involved in publishing content that violates the privacy of individuals. The individuals, in this case, were walking in public areas (commercial malls) yet, they were filmed without their consent and this subsequently raised a claim for the invasion of privacy. The sanctions imposed by the Court of Cassation as a result of this invasion of a right to a private life included fines and deportation from UAE territory.

The fundamental point is that patients (including their family members), children, names, images, medical situations or related data, can all be classified as private information, which is exclusive owned by the individual concerned The disclosure of this information, in any form, should be carefully reviewed and assessed, in order to mitigate any potential risk. It is important that Employers or Individuals with dependants, raise awareness on the implications of reporting on social media platforms in respect of the applicable laws to ensure no violation, even if unintentional, occurs. Ignorance of the law or lack of intention to violate another’s right to privacy is not an excuse. It should be noted that simply re-sharing what someone else has shared or published will not exempt an individual or entity from liability.

We have observed a high level of professionalism and adherence with the applicable laws and the third parties rights of media service providers, including TV channels, radio stations, online newspapers and other mediums. This is apparent from all the reports and audiovisual content that we are receiving in relation to COVID-19. We have also witnessed reliable content on the topic that provides sufficient information to public and corroborates with official sources.

Defamation. Defamatory or libellous posts on social media could result in defamation claims under the applicable laws in the UAE. Whilst the creation and dissemination of parodic posts and content is a common occurrence in the UK and Europe, it is important to be aware that parody is not an available defense under UAE Law. Instead, it is more likely that a parody may be seen as an attempt to humiliate an individual or an entity and to harm their reputation, no matter how ridiculous the parody is.

More recently, an exception to this rule was passed in the UAE in DIFC Intellectual Property Law number 4 of 2019, in which it is considered that a registered Trademark, or a well-known Trademark, is not infringed in the DIFC if it is used in news reporting, news commentary or parody. However, this exception is specifically limited to DIFC and in relation to trademarks. This shows a willingness for parodic content to be recognised in the future, but for now, the public should be aware that parodic content, could be pursued by the concerned individuals and/or entities in UAE under the applicable defamation laws. To put this into context, any posts relating to patients, medical staff members, law enforcement agencies or the public reacting to incidents of public interest can be subject to legal liability. Defamation criminal liability is pursuable within a strict time bar from publishing defamatory content. However, civil liability and invasion of privacy criminal claims can be longer than defamation offenses.

It is worth reminding everyone that in accordance with articles 372 and 373 of UAE Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 in UAE (as amended), a defamatory statement is one that exposes a person to public hatred or contempt, even if the statement is true and correct. This means that a person is potentially exposed to a claim for defamation by publishing or disseminating any negative news about an individual or an entity. If the defamatory statement is made against a public officer or governmental entity, the imposed sanction could be significantly worse.

Based on the above, an individual, before communicating an opinion, posting or sharing any videos in relation to COVID-19, by whatever method of communication, should consider:

  1. Could this statement be interpreted as defamatory or an invasion of privacy for others? (i.e. does this statement suggest anything negative about an individual or entity in particular? Does it reveal any information or post any material regarding someone that can be classified as private content, a private location and/or unsuitable for public display); and
  2. Could this statement, post or content cause harm? (particularly to reputation and honour to an individual or entity, on a national and international basis).

We should all be aware that the protection of privacy, for the data of patients, defamation, cyber-crimes and all other related legal provisions in UAE are going to be likely reviewed and subject to enforcement proceedings should any violations be revealed. The priority now is for public safety but authorities and concerned individuals will be monitoring and documenting posted content that may be revisited in the future to explore any legal liabilities.

On a final note, social media platforms are extremely beneficial to the general public as they enable the transmission of awareness, encourage the freedom of speech and facilitate communication on an international basis, at a time where countries are shutting their borders and encouraging people to isolate. For example, the level of awareness that people gained on COVID-19 in such a short period is unprecedented. However, users should be aware that social media platforms are not private and the misuse of such platforms by sharing any content, statement or image that they come across, is subject to appropriate sanctions. Freedom of speech is granted and protected so long as it is in compliance with local regulations and public orders.

Can employers terminate employees due to COVID-19?

With the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 Virus, the hardest hit are establishments within the hospitality, F&B and retail industry, with many restaurants, gyms and many other businesses being forced to shut their doors temporarily or at least downscale their production and/or services drastically.

The greatest expense for most businesses is the payment of employee salaries. In circumstances where businesses are sometimes not operating and employees are not working as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting measures adopted by the UAE government, certain queries arise.

BSA provides answers to these queries in an effort to allow employers/businesses to curb their losses and employees to know their rights.

Employment provisions relating to the COVID-19 outbreak

At the outset, it is important to note that, to date, no special provisions/exceptions have been implemented to govern the relations between (1) the establishments that have been affected by the mandatory closures relating to the COVID-19 outbreak (or any establishment facing the direct/indirect repercussions of the pandemic); and (2) their employees.

BSA has reached out to the MOHRE and they have confirmed that their stance thus far is that the COVID-19 outbreak has not been declared a force majeure event and in the absence of special provisions relating to the exceptional measures taken as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the status quo remains and both employers and employees will be bound by their rights and obligations as outlined in Federal Law no. 8 of 1980 (as amended) (the ‘Labour Law’) and their relevant employment agreements.

In light of this unprecedented global pandemic, it is preferable for employers and employees to enter into discussions, negotiate and agree upon terms that are acceptable to all parties involved.

Can an employer terminate an employee under the current circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes, however, such employer will be at risk of facing arbitrary dismissal claims.

In the absence of specific provisions adopted as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, employers can terminate their employees, however, such terminations will be governed by the provisions of the Labour Law and the relevant employment contract(s). Any such employers will likely be required to settle the employees’ dues (including but not limited to payment in lieu of notice) and will be at risk of facing arbitrary dismissal claims. In circumstances where the COVID-19 has not been declared a force majeure event, employers will need to assess this risk in light of the Labour Law.

The same rules will apply as regards limited term employment contracts given that the Covid-19 outbreak has not yet been deemed a legitimate justification for termination. As such, if an employer terminates an employee as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the termination will be considered to be without cause and the employer may be held liable for compensating the employee.

Can an employer compel its employees to take unpaid leave?

No.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting mandatory closures, many employers are likely to attempt to avoid payment of their employees’ salaries and consider their absence as ‘unpaid leave’.

Any such attempt will be considered unlawful under the Labour Law as employers are not permitted to ‘freeze’ the employment of their personnel for a set period of time.

Unless the parties agree that the employee will be taking an unpaid leave, an employer’s instruction to enforce unpaid leave on his employees will constitute a breach of the Labour Law (as outlined above) and the contract given that the employer will be failing to pay the employee’s salary (in accordance with the terms of the employment contract).

Can an employer compel its employees to take their annual (paid) leave during the COVID-19 outbreak?

The general principles embodied in Article 76 of the Labour Law state that the employer may determine the date of the commencement of the annual leave, and may divide it if necessary, to two or more periods. This right has been given to employers since they are the responsible persons who are aware of the volume of work being undertaken by the company, and also to determine the priority as to when the work must be executed. This right is given with a view to prioritise continuity of work. In view of this principle, the converse is also applicable during this period of slowdown caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, where there is a discontinuity of work. Therefore, given the above information, the employer can determine the date of commencement of an employee’s annual leave during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Can an employer impose a salary reduction?

No.

Should an employer perform any deduction of salaries outside the scope of Article 60 and the employment contract, an employee can seek the recovery of any deducted amount(s) before the competent labour courts.

In a context of cooperation during these unparalleled circumstances, parties may wish to agree upon a structure suitable for both the business, which is likely to be facing financial difficulties arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak, and its employees, who need to be paid their salaries, in an effort to avoid mass terminations as a result of the pandemic.

Is there a moratorium on salary payments?

The MOHRE has confirmed that at this point, the status quo remains, notwithstanding the COVID-19 outbreak. As such, there is no moratorium on the payment of salaries and employers must continue with making salary payments unless the employment contract provides otherwise.

The peculiarity of the situation will undeniably need to be considered by labour courts when hearing employment cases arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Taking affirmative steps now is especially important as companies currently can foresee and attempt to mitigate any potential operational impacts in advance of the outbreak spreading to any new locality. Ideally, businesses will be able to plan accordingly to avoid any disruptions in their operations if the virus continues to spread.

We urge individuals and businesses to seek legal advice as to their existing and future contracts with the above information in mind.