Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Employment Issues Relating to COVID-19 Under Omani Law

As more COVID-19 cases are detected in the Middle East, employers with international workforces in Oman will need to monitor the impact of the outbreak and take steps to protect their employees and workplace where necessary.

The outbreak of COVID-19 raises important points of Omani employment law with particular considerations for a predominately expat workforce. Specific legal advice should be sought where necessary, as the situation is changing daily.
Government announcements
Oman has a predominately expat workforce and many employees are following news reports in both Oman and their home countries with interest, often via reports shared on social media. It is easy for rumours and misinformation to spread quickly; therefore, employers should advise all employees to follow official government announcements and to avoid sharing rumours without verifying statements from official sources.
Employers should remind employees of the defamation laws that apply in Oman and consider updating and recirculating their internet use and social media policies to reflect this.
Employer measures


We are aware that some employers are taking steps to have their employees screened to confirm that they are healthy and not presenting any risks to other colleagues. Before implementing any such practices, employee consent should be obtained and consideration given to what steps the business will take if an employee is showing any symptoms.
Whether employers are entitled to require an employee to self-isolate and work from home is likely to depend on:
  • whether the employee is symptomatic – in which case, it is likely that they should be on sick leave and therefore not working; or
  • whether the employee is able to work from home.
Employers should now be considering whether they need to take any additional steps to facilitate home working and whether employees should ensure that they have the correct set-up at home to be able to work there, if required to do so.
Relevant considerations may include:
  • ensuring that all employees have a way of logging on to secure systems from home;
  • whether any employer liability insurance would cover a personal injury sustained by an employee while working from home;
  • how the employee will be supervised while working from home;
  • what measures need to be put in place to protect the confidential information of the business and personal data of employees and customers; and
  • where there is no established company home working policy in place, recording the arrangement with relevant employees in writing.
Employers should review their employment contracts and policies to determine whether and to what extent they are able to require employees to work away from the office. Employers have a general obligation to maintain overall health and safety of all employees, and will understandably be keen to avoid the spread of illness through their staff as this could disrupt business for several weeks.
Suspension may be an option where an employee who has been advised to self-isolate refuses to do so, but employers should consider whether they have the right to suspend in these circumstances. In the absence of a disciplinary sanction having been handed down as a consequence of a formal disciplinary procedure, the general position is that any period of suspension should be on full pay. Where no express contractual right to suspend exists, legal advice should be sought.
Should employees be placed on annual leave, paid sick leave or any other type of leave?
The position will depend on the employer’s contractual terms and policy, the position of the employee and any other material factors, such as the employee’s health. Options available to employers in Oman include:

  • inviting employees to take a period of paid annual leave voluntarily;
  • placing employees on a period of mandatory annual leave;
  • for employees with symptoms, allowing them to take sick leave. Article 66 of the Oman Labour Law provides that, subject to the provisions of the Social Insurance Law, an employee is entitled to sick leave for one or more periods which shall not exceed ten weeks in a year regardless of whether the leave is divided or continuous. Sick leave salary entitlements will be granted in the following manner:
    • First two weeks leave: full pay
    • Following two weeks leave: paid ¾ of the full salary
    • Following two weeks leave: paid ½ of the full salary
    • Following four weeks leave: paid ¼ of the full salary
 The employee must produce a medical certificate to establish his/her sickness, and in the event of a dispute, the matter has to be referred to the medical committee, whose decision in matters of sickness is final.
Whilst the Oman Labour Law grants the employee the right to sick leave, Article 43 of the Oman Labour Law provides that the employment contract may be terminated if the sickness of an employee compels him/her to discontinue work for a continuous or an interrupted period of not less than ten weeks during a year;

  • enabling employees to work remotely wherever possible; and
  • where an employee voluntarily self-isolates and remains away from the workplace without discussing this with the employer, there may be more scope for considering such leave to be unpaid.
Legal advice should be sought before introducing any measures which seek to reduce employees’ statutory benefits, such as a mandatory period of unpaid leave or requesting that employees take a temporary pay cut.

Far-reaching privacy laws are in place in Oman. Any employee’s medical records therefore should be dealt with strictly confidentially and only shared with relevant personnel on a ‘need to know’ basis. Best practice is to obtain advance written consent from the employee before the details of any medical test or report are shared, even where there is a provision in the employment contract confirming how personal data will be processed within the organization.