With the gradual return of business and work activities in the private sector in a manner that is very similar to what they used to look like before the COVID 19 pandemic, many questions pop in the minds of business owners and leaders regarding the best arrangements and procedures in preparation for the slow or full employees’ return. It is almost the full responsibility of Legal and HR departments to know the requirements for employees’ return in addition to the legal aspects worthy of being noticed under current conditions. In this short article, we shed some light on some important legal highlights:

  • The Saudi Labor Law has placed great emphasis on workers protection against anything that may impact their health and safety which can be clearly seen in the Labor Law articles that stress on employers’ responsibility concerning workers’ safety and security as well as maintaining a safe work environment. Under current conditions, it is important for employers to apply the protocols announced by the Saudi Ministry of Health and other concerned government organizations in relation to the return of work activities. These protocols include as an example the wearing of protective masks avoidance of crowds especially in work entailing encounters with the public. It is also important to consider employees’ medical conditions as per the directives announced by the Saudi Ministry of Health and Ministry of HR & Social Development which may call for adopting alternative work arrangements such as work from home. It would be important to remind business owners of article 81 of the Saudi Labor Law giving workers the right to leave work without notice while preserving all legal entitlements when there is a sever danger at the work place threatening their safety or security as long as such danger is known to the employer and no action has been taken to remove it. If we assume that a positive COVID 19 case has been discovered at the workplace which is known to the employer or manager in charge, then employees will typically have the right to leave work until proper procedures have been implemented to ensure that offices are safe for other workers.
  • Under current conditions and the constant fear from being infected with the virus, it is imperative for business owners and managers to realize the size of danger and the concerns by their employees which calls for having more communication with them regarding procedures and precautions necessary at the workplace or while conducting work activities. It is also important that business owners secure basic needs to protect employees and customers or clients such as sanitizers or masks. Furthermore, business owners and managers need to understand the different circumstances of their employees to avoid implementing corrective or administrative actions that may be improper or illegal given the nature of current times and conditions. Bear in mind that such actions may also escalate to labor claims that adversely impact the employer. In this regard, it is important to remind the reader of article 141 in the Saudi Labor Law which obligate the employer to preserve the establishment in a clean and healthy state.
  • In case the employer provides housing for employees, it is important to pay attention for the regulations issued by the Saudi Ministry of HR & Social Development concerning the health  mandates for employees’ residential compounds such as prohibiting overcrowding in addition to securing sanitizers and check points at entrances/exists to spot virus symptoms.
  • It is with no doubt that this pandemic has had its deep effect on several establishments at different degrees.  Such effect may have resulted in shrinking or eliminating the business which led to laying off employees. In such case, it is very important to pay attention for all terms and conditions stated in employment contracts and observe all legal requirements pertaining to ending employees’ services. For example, paragraph 7 of article 74 from the Saudi Labor Law refers to the cancellation of the function as one reason for ending service. The cancellation of the function which doesn’t lead to laying off all employees in that function may lead to labor disputes. Accordingly, the employer in this case must follow objective approach to identifying employees to be laid off in order to avoid disputes and claims of disparate treatment. It is also important to mention in this regard the Saudi Ministry of HR & Social Development decision prohibiting the laying off for Saudi employees (for reasons not related to the workers) if the number of laid off employees exceed 1% of all workers or amount to 10 employees whichever is more. In this case, the establishment must first notify the Labor Office at least 60 days before the laying off date.
  • Finally, it is important to know that raising labor cases is a right preserved for workers. Given that, employers and their managers must ensure to document all their dealings with employees. It is also important to make employees aware of their duties to face this pandemic and apply all necessary protocols. Employers will need to follow up on that and hold their employees accountable when they fail to fulfill their duties in this regard. Having said that, we remind employers of article 66 listing feasible corrective actions and articles 69 and 71 that regulate procedures to follow when dealing with employees who violate instructions.

Note: the purpose of this article is to spread general knowledge and awareness. It doesn’t constitute in any way a legal consultation or opinion regarding any specific case. Please bear in mind that each case has its own circumstances which must be carefully assessed for opinion. This article doesn’t replace reading from official sources of all concerned laws and regulations. The Firm doesn’t bear any responsibility for damage or action or litigation that may originate as a result of this article.