In March we welcomed Ali Naveed Arshad to our Middle East team. Ali is well known in the Omani market, having worked in Muscat for six years. Based in Dubai, he will service both Oman and UAE based clients.
Ali is recommended by leading guide Chambers Global as an “Up and Coming” lawyer. The 2017 edition praises him as a “great lawyer” and notes "He is helpful, practical and commercially keen."
You can contact Ali in our Dubai office.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
In March we welcomed Ali Naveed Arshad to our Middle East team. Ali is well known in the Omani market, having worked in Muscat for six years. Based in Dubai, he will service both Oman and UAE based clients.
Monday, March 20, 2017
General Overview of the Grievance System in Oman
The Omani Labour Law (promulgated by Royal Decree 35 of 2003, as amended) (the “OLL”) is the primary law regulating the private sector employer-employee relationship and the rights and obligations of employees. Additionally, Ministerial Decision 129 of 2005 contains the penalty code and conditions for implementing it on private sector employees (“2005 MD”). The 2005 MD provides that an employer may add offences to the penalty code that are not included in the specimen penalty code, if the nature and type of the business of the organization require this.
The rights and obligations with respect to employer and employees have been set out in the OLL. This article will discuss the rights of employers and employees respectively.
The circumstances in which an employer may dismiss a worker
Although the OLL states that either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment relationship upon 30 days’ notice (or such longer notice period that the labour contract may state), this does not negate the ability of the employee to receive compensation. In other words, the use by an employer of a notice provision to terminate an employee will normally be seen by the Omani Courts to be a “termination for convenience”, thereby requiring the employer to pay compensation to the employee. The Omani courts only rule out the requirement to pay compensation when they believe that the termination was due to what they see as a “valid reason”. It is not possible to list specifically and comprehensively all of the acts or circumstances that could constitute a “valid reason” for termination, as these are normally decided on a case-by-case basis by the Omani courts and subject to the relevant evidence on hand.
Under Article 40 of the OLL, an employer has the right to terminate its contract with an employee without prior notice, or paying any end-of-service benefit, where the employee has committed an act of gross misconduct, for example, where the employee:
a) assumes a false identity;
b) makes a mistake that results in a material financial loss to the employer;
c) is away from work for more than 10 consecutive days without reasonable cause;
d) discloses confidential information of the employer;
e) receives a final judgment against it for an offence or felony for breach of honour or trust; or
f) is in a state of drunkenness or under the influence of an intoxicating drug or mental stimulants whilst at work or during work hours.
What is the employer’s role and rights as far as the Grievance System is concerned?
According to Article 106 of the OLL, the employer is required to display in a conspicuous place the procedure for complaints and grievances. The procedure will provide the employee the right to submit his complaint or grievance to the employer or his representative. Further, it is important to note that the Company is obliged under the OLL to obtain an approval on the procedures for complaints and grievances from the MOM prior to displaying it at the workplace. Moreover, Article 106 of the OLL further provides that the employee has a time limit of fifteen days from the date on which he was dismissed by the Company, to apply to the MOM, for annulment of the dismissal decision.
The circumstances in which an employee may abandon the work prior to the termination of the contract
Under Article 41 of the OLL, an employee has the right to abandon work prior to the termination of his contract (after giving written notice to the employer) where there has been gross misconduct on the part of the employer, for example:
a) where the employer has defrauded the employee;
b) the employer commits an immoral act toward the employee;
c) the employer assaults the employee; or
d) the employer is aware of a danger that threatens the health or safety of the employees and does nothing to rectify the danger.
For matters other than Article 41 of the OLL, the employee will need to comply with Article 107 of OLL if they have any complaint at the workplace.
What are the employees’ rights regarding the Grievance System?
Article 107 of OLL provides that if an employee has a complaint he shall first follow the procedures laid down by the employer and if such procedure does not exist or does not address the employee’s grievance, the employee is authorized to apply to MOM in order to endeavour to reach a settlement for the dispute. The first step to settling a labour dispute is obviously to try to resolve the issue internally between the parties. If the parties failed to resolve their differences or if the procedure does not exist, the parties are authorized to apply to the MOM in order to try to reach a settlement, failing which, the employee may proceed in filing a claim in the Primary Court.
Monday, March 13, 2017
Takaful originates from the Arabic word Kafalah, which means ‘guaranteeing each other’. It is the Islamic counterpart of conventional insurance.
The concept of takaful is based on the principles of mutual cooperation and the separation between the takaful fund and the operations of its shareholders, covering the elements of shared responsibility, joint indemnity, common interest and solidarity.
In a takaful company, the policyholders are the joint investors with the takaful operator. The profits or losses of the investment pool are shared amongst the policyholders according to a pre-determined ratio.
Takaful works with all the participants guaranteeing each other and making contributions to a mutual fund, as opposed to paying premiums. The amount that each participant contributes is dependent upon the type of cover required and his/her personal circumstances.
A takaful operator manages and administers the takaful fund on behalf of the policyholders and is paid a fee for miscellaneous expenses such as the costs of sales and marketing, underwriting, and claims management etc.
From an operational perspective, a takaful company must maintain two funds, a policyholders’ fund and a shareholders’ fund. The two funds cannot be mixed with each other. The funds are invested on a profit and loss sharing basis, as approved by the takaful company’s Sharia Supervisory Board (“SSB”).
The policyholders’ fund is comprised of amounts corresponding to the insurance premiums received, re-insurer’s claims, investment profits, salvages and recoveries. The said fund is utilized towards paying claims to the policyholders, reinsurance and administrative costs and technical reserves (but excluding the investment department expenses).
Any surplus amount after the aforesaid utilization is allocated to the policyholders’ special reserves and distributed amongst them. In the event the policyholders’ fund is deficient to meet their expenses, the shortfall amount is funded from the shareholders’ fund. The shareholders also guarantee to discharge all liabilities of the policyholders’ fund, proportionate to their respective shareholding in the takaful company.
The shareholders’ fund, on the other hand, consists of the paid-up capital and shareholders’ reserves, capital investment profit and subsequent equity injections. The investment department’s administrative expenses are deducted from the said fund. Any surplus amount is distributed amongst the shareholders on a pro-rata basis.
A takaful can be structured based on the nature of the relationship between the company and the participants. Three kinds of structures are most widely used, namely, Wakalah, Mudarabah and a combination of the two.
Under the Wakalah structure, the takaful operator works as an agent on behalf of the participants. The takaful operator manages the fund and receives a management fee (i.e., a Wakalah fee). An incentive fee can also be charged by the takaful operator to manage the fund in the best way possible. The fee is fixed in advance after consultation with the SSB. Any surplus generated by the takaful fund or the investments goes to the policyholders.
Under the Mudarabah structure, the policyholders are the investing partner (i.e., the Rab-ul-Mal) and the takaful operator is the working partner (i.e., the Mudarib). The policyholders put in their respective participations in the takaful fund and the takaful operator uses its expertise and knowledge to manage the said fund. Profits are shared according to an agreed ratio whereas losses are borne by the policyholders only.
The third type of structure, namely, the Wakalah-cum-Mudarabah structure, is commonly used in the takaful industry. This structure uses a hybrid of Wakalah and Mudarabah contracts. Under the Wakalah contract, the takaful company is appointed as the agent for managing the fund and is given a fee for underwriting the fund. Under the Mudarabah contract, the takaful company is appointed to act as the fund manager and shares any profit resulting from the investment of the fund.
Monday, March 6, 2017
General Overview of Sole Proprietorship
A sole proprietorship is a form of business available only to Omani or GCC nationals. The minimum capital requirement for a sole proprietorship is relatively low, being OMR 3,000. A sole proprietorship does not require the participation of other partners or stakeholders and the sole proprietor can undertake the business in his own name.
One of the main drawbacks of establishing a sole proprietorship is that the sole proprietor is considered to be the legal holder of the license. Consequently, the sole proprietorship concern will not act as a separate legal entity whereby the partners or stakeholders are protected under its corporate veil. The proprietor is therefore, personally liable for debts incurred by the sole proprietorship entity.
In Oman, it is common for Omani individuals to initially establish a sole proprietorship and later convert the business into a limited liability company (“LLC”), as the incorporation process of the sole proprietorship is swift and easy when compared to that of an LLC. A sole proprietorship requires only one individual and the capital contribution is relatively less when compared to a limited liability company, which requires a minimum capital of OMR 20,000.
For the registration purposes, the individual would require to liaise with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (“MOCI”). The applicant is required to submit the MOCI standard form for registration of sole proprietorship, along with the individual’s identity card and the ROP good standing certificate. The name of the establishment will be the same as that of the sole proprietor (i.e., the owner).
The Conversion of Sole Proprietorship to a Limited Liability Company
According to Article 13 Bis 1 of the Sultani Decree 4 of 1974 Commercial Companies Law (“CCL”) it is permissible to convert a company from one status to another by a decision issued in accordance with the rules made for amending the memorandum of incorporation of an existing company or its articles of association, in compliance with the procedures and conditions of the company of which conversion takes place.
Article 13 Bis 2 further sets out certain limitation to conversion. According to Article 13 Bis 2 conversion of the company shall not result in the creation of a new juristic person, and the company, after conversion, shall retain all its previous rights and liabilities that preceded such conversion. The conversion shall not release members from their joint liability with respect to the company preceding the conversion unless the creditors agree to such release. Therefore, according to CCL, it is permissible for a sole proprietorship to convert to a limited liability company, provided that the applicant complies with the provisions of the CCL.
The procedures for conversion of a sole proprietorship company into a limited liability company are as follows:
1. The applicant is required to liaise with the MOCI and submit a contract of sale of percentage. The contract for the sale of percentage is basically a share transfer process whereby the current owner sells a portion of his stake in the sole proprietorship concern to another Omani or a foreign partner. The contract for the sale of percentage will be executed and signed at the MOCI. All parties (sellers and buyers) are required to be present at the MOCI. If any of the parties are not able to attend the signing at the MOCI, such party will need to issue a power of attorney authorizing the power of attorney holder to sign on his behalf.
2. Once the sale of percentage is executed, the applicant is required to submit the following documents to the MOCI:
Name reservation: As an initial step, the applicant is required to reserve a name of the company. The proposed name of the company has to be reserved to reflect the words “LLC”;
a) Constitutive contract: The constitutive contract of the LLC will set out the Company’s activities, amount of capital, number of shares, the members’ nationalities, their respective shareholdings, their voting rights, partners’ meetings, etc. This document is required to be prepared in Arabic and signed by the all the shareholders, including the sole proprietor;
b) Certificate of good standing: If the incoming partner is an individual, the new incoming partner(s) will also require to produce a certificate of good standing from their country of origin;
c) Constitutional documents and resolution of partner: in the event the partner is a corporate entity, it will need to provide its constitutional documents, i.e. certificate of incorporation, memorandum and articles of association, etc. and a resolution approving its participation in the LLC;
d) Original copies of the commercial registration certificate, computer printout, and a Oman Chamber of Commerce certificate/card of the existing sole proprietorship; and
e) Copies of the ID card(s) for the local Omani partner and passport copy for the foreign partner.
Once all the above documents are submitted to the MOCI for conversion of the sole proprietorship to an LLC, the MOCI will review and assess the application and after approval, issue the new commercial registration documents in the name of the LLC. The MOCI will also issue a letter confirming the conversion, based on which the LLC will be permitted to amend its name at the relevant ministries, banks and any other government bodies.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
There are a number of reasons that an employer may wish to include a non-compete clause (otherwise known as a restrictive covenant) in an employment contract with an employee, for example, to protect goodwill and trade secrets. Such provisions have been contemplated in the Civil Transactions Law issued by Sultani Decree 29/2013 (the “Civil Code”). Under the Civil Code, if an employee has knowledge of the “secrets” of his/her employer in terms of how the entity conducts its business, or if the employer is familiar with the employer’s clients, the employment contract may contain a clause to prevent the employee from doing the following after termination of the employment contract:
• gaining employment at a competitor of the employer; or
• participating in competitive work.
However, it is important to note that a restrictive covenant, such as a non-compete clause (in accordance with Article 661) will only be effective if it is reasonable, such that it is “restricted in time, place and type of work to the extent necessary for the protection of the legitimate interests of the employer”.
How to draft non-compete clauses?
Omani court judgement (Case No. 426/2014) considered the issue of the validity of non-compete clauses. In this case, the contract of employment stipulated that the employee (i.e., the defendant) would not assume any similar position in the Sultanate for 12 months after the termination of his service with the employer (i.e., the plaintiff). It further stipulated that the employee would maintain the confidentiality of business secrets and the data/information related to the employer. The plaintiff submitted that the defendant joined another firm (the second litigant) prior to the end of the 12 month term and disclosed such business secrets to that litigant. Subsequently, the plaintiff sought to:
a) revoke the contract of employment between the defendant and the litigant and thereby revoke the residence visa of the defendant; and
b) obligate the defendant and the litigant to together pay the plaintiff compensation in damages incurred as a result of the alleged illegal competition.
With regard to whether the defendant had breached the relevant clause of his employment contract, the courts held that he had not. The contract between the plaintiff and the defendant provided that the defendant could not accept any job or connect with any business activities inside the Sultanate that was similar to, or competitive with, any of the operations conducted by the plaintiff. The non-compete provisions in the Civil Code can prevent a contracting party from undertaking a specific type of work within a certain period or area, however, such restriction should not be so broad as to include all types of work in every place and time. Any provision aiming to do such a thing, would violate the principal of the freedom to work. Accordingly, the court in this instance found the non-compete clause between employee and employer to be invalid, since the condition violated the public order of the principal of freedom to work.
Whether a non-compete clause is valid or not is up to the assessment of the judiciary. What counts as a reasonable restrictive covenant is therefore likely to depend on the nature of an employer’s business and the level of restriction imposed on an employee as set out above. As general guidance, the following points should be considered:
• Time: As to the length of time, a non-compete clause is likely to be acceptable if it restricts an employee for working for a competitor for a defined period of time, although the acceptable period of time would likely be considered on the basis of the employee’s role and level of seniority. A non-compete clause that sets out a prolonged period or for an indefinite period of time is likely to be invalid.
• Place: As to geographical location preventing a former employee from working for a competitor, what is deemed acceptable will likely depend on whether the employer’s business is situated in one location, or multiple locations and/or regions. A non-compete clause restricting an individual from working for any competitor within the whole of the GCC region will likely be unenforceable if the said business is situated in Oman for example with no dealings in the GCC region.
• Type of work: As to type of work, a non-compete clause attempting to restrict an employee from working in the same industry which would prevent an employee from attaining a different role and function entirely; a role which could not possibly cause damage to the former employer’s business (e.g., by sharing secrets, business know-how, client information etc.) may be considered unreasonable.
A non-compete clause should be drafted so as to protect the legitimate interests of the employer. The provisions should strike a balance between protecting the legitimate interests of the employer while permitting an employee to work and earn a living at another company.
Non-compete clauses and the expatriate visa ban
Given the Civil Code says that a non-compete clause must be proportionate to protect the legitimate interests of the employer it will be interesting to see how the Courts view what is and is not an acceptable restrictive covenant in light of the two year expatriate visa ban (the “Ban”).
By way of overview, the Ban, which was imposed by the Expatriate Residency Law (issued by Sultani Decree 16 of 1995 (as amended)) and reinforced by the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) in July 2014, effectively restricts expatriates from obtaining employment with a new employer in the Sultanate for a period of two years after termination of employment with their current employer in Oman. An expatriate is only eligible to join another company in the Sultanate prior to the expiry of two years from the date of termination of employment if he or she can obtain a Non Objection Certificate (“NOC”) from his or her current employer.
The Ban was part of the MOM’s objective to regulate the labour market. For those employers willing to give an NOC, it is important therefore, to consider a carefully worded non-compete clause in this instance.
How a non-compete clause could be invalid?
An employer cannot seek to enforce a non-compete clause in an employment contract if the employee’s employment was terminated by the employer without just cause. In addition, a restrictive covenant shall be deemed invalid if the employer commits an act that justifies the termination of the contract by the employee.
Pursuant to Article 662 of the Civil Code, in the event a former employee violates the terms of its non-compete provision, compensation may be payable to the employer for breach. However, where the compensation amount as set out in the non-compete clause is excessive and intended to force employees to remain employed by the employer, the said non-compete clause shall be void.