United Arab Emirates

Labor Compliance Guide

Labor Requirements

Private sector employment in the UAE generally is governed by the country’s Labor Law, although many free zones have issued their own employment regulations. Some free zones have employment laws that entirely supersede the Labor Law, including the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM).

Hours & Pay Regulations

Normal Working Hours

Working hours for adult employees cannot exceed eight per day or 48 per week over a six­-day week. The workday may be increased to nine hours for commercial establishments, hotels, cafeterias, security services and other businesses designated by the minister of labor and social affairs. Daily work hours are reduced by two hours per day during Ramadan.

In the DIFC and ADGM, the following work hour rules apply:

  • Weekly working hours cannot exceed, on average, 48 hours over a seven-­day period, unless the employer obtains the employee’s prior written consent to work longer hours;
  • Employees whose work time is more than six hours are entitled to a one-­hour break for rest and/or prayer;
  • Employees are entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of not less than 24 hours rest in each seven-­day work period; and
  • Reduced Ramadan hours apply only to fasting employees in these two free zones.


An employee who works more than the normal number of hours is entitled to overtime pay of time-­and-­one-­quarter.


The overtime rate for work performed between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. is time­-and­-one­-half.


Overtime work is limited to two hours per day unless such work is essential to prevent a substantial loss or serious accident or to alleviate the impact of a serious accident. Overtime requirements do not apply to managerial or supervisory positions.


No employee may work more than five consecutive hours without breaks for rest, meals and prayers amounting to not less than one hour. These breaks are not included as part of the employee’s working hours.


The minister of labor and social affairs may specify different methods of taking breaks in factories and workshops where work is organized into continuous day/night shifts, and in processes where technical and economic reasons require work to continue uninterrupted.

Work On Rest Days

Friday is the normal weekly day of rest for all workers except day laborers. The UAE government has a five­-day workweek with its weekend on Friday and Saturday. Private ­sector businesses are free to set their own schedules. An employee who works on a day of rest is entitled to either a substitute rest day or overtime pay of time­-and­-one­-half.

Public Holidays

Employees in the UAE are entitled to leave with full pay for the following 10 public holidays, the dates for most of which vary year to year according to the lunar calendar:

  • Jan. 1: New Year’s Day
  • Birthday of Prophet Mohammed
  • Al-Isra and Al Mi’raj (Ascension of the Prophet)
  • Eid al–Fitr (2 days)
  • Eid al-­Adha (3 days)
  • New Year’s Day (Islamic calendar)
  • Dec. 2: UAE National Day

In the event an employee is required to work on a statutory holiday (and is entitled to receive full or partial salary), the employer must provide the employee with compensatory leave and a bonus equal to 50 percent of the employee’s salary.  If the employer does not provide compensatory rest, it must pay a bonus equal to 150 percent of the employee’s base salary for each day worked. There is no day in lieu if public holidays fall on a weekend.

Annual Leave

Employees who have completed at least one year of continuous service with their employers are entitled to 30 days’ paid annual leave. Employees with more than six months of continuous service but less than one year are entitled to two days’ annual leave per month of employment. The employer may set the date for commencement of an employee’s annual leave and may divide that leave into no more than two periods. Annual leave for minors may not be divided.


An employee loses vacation pay for failing to report to work on the day immediately following vacation. Employees are entitled to be paid for their annual leave before the leave begins and are not permitted to carry over unused leave.


In the DIFC and the ADGM, the minimum holiday entitlement is 20 working days for a worker employed for three months or more. Employees in the ADGM can carry over five days of annual leave each year, while DIFC workers can carry over all 20 days of leave.

An employee who works on during annual leave is entitled to substitute leave and overtime pay of time-­and-­one-­half.

Special Leave

Sick Leave

After completing three months of continuous service with an employer after the probationary period, an employee is entitled to annual sick leave not exceeding 90 days. The first 15 days of sick leave are with full pay, the next 30 days at half pay and any subsequent periods without pay. Employees are not entitled to paid sick leave during the probationary period. An employee who suffers a non­ work ­related illness or injury must report the event to the employer within two days. The employer may require the employee to submit to a medical examination for the purpose of verifying the illness or injury. No paid sick leave is available for illnesses that are the direct result of the employee’s misconduct, such as consumption of alcohol or narcotic drugs. If an employee resigns due to illness before the first 45 days of sick leave are exhausted and the government medical officer or the medical practitioner designated by the employer accepts a medical cause for the resignation, the employee is entitled to receive pay for the unused portion of the first 45 days of sick leave. The labor law states that every employer must provide its employees with medical care coverage up to the standard determined by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in consultation with the Ministry of Health. In Abu Dhabi, employers are obligated to provide health insurance coverage to employees and their dependents. In Dubai, employers must provide health insurance coverage to employees but not their dependents. In the DIFC and ADGM, employees who have completed at least one month of service are entitled to 60 days of paid sick leave per year. Employees whose sick leave exceeds 60 days can be dismissed immediately with written notice.

Maternity Leave

Pregnant employees are entitled to 45 days of maternity leave, including time off before and after the birth of the baby. For employees who have completed at least one year of continuous service with their employers, maternity leave is with full pay. Employees without the requisite year of service are entitled to maternity leave at half pay. An employee who has exhausted her maternity leave may be absent from work without pay for an additional period of up to 100 consecutive or nonconsecutive days if the absence is due to illness resulting from pregnancy or delivery that prevents her from resuming work. The employee must provide a medical certificate confirming that her illness is a result of pregnancy or delivery. During the first 18 months after delivery, a female worker is entitled to two additional breaks per day of no more than 30 minutes each for the purpose of nursing her child. The additional breaks are considered part of working hours and do not entail any reduction of pay. In the DIFC and ADGM, female workers are entitled to 65 days of maternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child if the employee has been employed for 12 months or more and has complied with the requisite notification requirements. The leave will be paid in full for the first 33 days and at half pay for the remainder. Employees in the free zones who are pregnant or on maternity leave cannot be terminated or have their positions changed without their consent. They also have the right to return to work at the end of the maternity leave to the same role or a suitable alternative on the same terms and conditions.

Parental Leave

There are no provisions in the national labor law for paternity leave, but employees in the ADGM are entitled to five days of paternity leave within two months of the child’s birth.

Unpaid Leave

Every Muslim employee must be granted an unpaid leave of up to 30 days for the purpose of making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Such leave may be taken only once during the course of employment and may not be deducted from any other period of leave to which the employee is entitled.


New DIFC Employment Law 2019 Effective August 28, 2019

Increased or expanded family-friendly benefits include:

      • Male employees who will have been continuously employed for at least twelve months immediately preceding the expected or actual week of his wife giving birth will be entitled to five working days of paid paternity leave.
      • A male employee has the right to paid time off to accompany his pregnant wife to antenatal appointments.
      • Mothers returning from maternity leave who work more than six hours per day are entitled to nursing breaks of up to one hour for the six months after childbirth.
      • The right to paternity leave extends to fathers of adopted children who are under five years old.
      • Female employees who are adopting a child will be entitled to statutory maternity leave if the child is less than five years old at the time of adoption. 

Reduction of Sick Pay

The current statutory sick pay entitlement of 60 days on full salary will be reduced and replaced with the following staggered payment system:

        • 100% of the employee’s daily wage for the first 10 working days of sickness absence;
        • 50% of the employee’s daily wage for the following 20 working days of sickness absence; and
        • Unpaid for the remaining 30 days of sickness absence.

In terms of Article 11(2), the conditions of employment set out in the New DIFC Employment Law are “minimum requirements” and cannot be waived even by express agreement by the employer and the employee unless such waiver is specifically allowed under the new law. It is possible to agree on conditions that are more favorable to the employee in an employment contract.


Time off to Look for Work Whilst on Notice

Previously employees were entitled to take reasonable time off. This right has been repealed.

Garden Leave

Employers can insist that employees do not attend work or undertake duties during their notice period.

One such instance where an employer may change the minimum requirements by express written agreement is the maximum weekly working time of an employee. In terms of Article 22, the employee’s maximum working time is 48 hours per week. However, Article 22 allows an employer to increase this limit if the employee consents in writing. Taking into account the mandatory daily rest period (11 hours per day) and the weekly rest period (24 hours per week), an employer may increase the weekly working time up to 78 hours if the employee consents to such increase in writing.


The changes brought about by the New DIFC Employment Law are significant and comprehensive in nature and due to the penalty system of fines in place for breach, employers are well-advised to ensure their employment contractual documentation, policies and handbooks are in alignment with the New DIFC Employment Law before its go-live date of August 28, 2019.

Last updated on: August 6th, 2019