New UAE law: Employees cannot be fired from their jobs over mental health conditions – News

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Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: KT file

Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: KT file

Published: Thu 11 Jan 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 11 Jan 2024, 10:30 PM

Employers in the UAE cannot make decisions about hiring, terminating or restricting job opportunities for residents over a mental health condition, as per a new law passed recently. “Instead, any decision regarding employment must be based on a report from a specialised medical committee that evaluates the individual’s condition in relation to their job,” Dr Hind Alrustamani, CEO and founder of Aman Lil Afia Clinic, told Khaleej Times in an interview.

This is similar to how companies are not allowed to take hiring or firing decisions based on the physical health of an employee. Workers can take up to 90 days of paid and unpaid sick leaves and may be terminated only if they are unable to report for work after.

Last month, the UAE issued a federal law on mental health that preserves patients’ right to retain their jobs without any restrictions, among other things. This aspect of the law encourages individuals to prioritise their mental well-being without the fear of losing their jobs.

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From a mental health caregiver’s perspective, this means a lot on the ground, the expert said. “It fosters an environment where individuals feel secure in seeking help without fearing repercussions at work. It’s a step towards a more compassionate and understanding workplace, recognising that mental health challenges shouldn’t hinder someone’s professional journey,” said Dr Alrustamani.

Dr Hind Alrustamani. Photo: Supplied

Dr Hind Alrustamani. Photo: Supplied

She advised employees to avail of sick leaves if they are facing mental health challenges, which can “affect your performance at work in the same way that physical ill health can”.

“Having policies that allow people to take time off for mental well-being is essential, as it is an indicator that mental health is as important as physical health, creating a more supportive workplace for everyone’s well-being.”

The new law explained

The law regulates the relation between patients and parties that deal with them, including care givers, employers and educational facilities. Fines of between Dh50,000 and Dh200,000 will be slapped on those found violating it.

The law recognises mental health as a state of psychological and social stability – encompassing various aspects of emotional, psychological, and social well-being. “In doing so, it acknowledges the multifaceted nature of mental well-being in our modern, fast-paced world, establishing it as a foundation for productivity and contribution to society,” said Dr Alrustamani.

What has changed?

According to the Emirati counsellor, the law ensures “clear and comprehensive rights” within mental health facilities.

“Importantly, the law safeguards the patient’s civil rights while in treatment, prohibiting limitations on employment without proper medical evaluation, and also prioritises patient confidentiality and privacy within mental health facilities, all aiming to promote holistic recovery and reintegration into society,” she said.

“Many patients who are being treated by mental health facilities are doing so at a time of extreme vulnerability … Patients have the right to informed consent, actively participate in their treatment, receive physical healthcare in a safe environment, and be protected from experimental treatments without consent.”

Insurance cover, costs

Dr Alrustamani called for psychological care to be an essential part of insurance schemes for all.

“The costs of mental health services in the UAE vary depending on factors such as the kind of treatment received, who the provider is, the specific location within the country, and sometimes depending on the availability of the service, as well as insurance cover,” she said.

On average, public or government-run facilities can be more affordable than private ones.

“Many countries such as the UAE have been making efforts to address mental health by offering various services. Potentially, this adaptation could lead to improvements in mental health infrastructure and services as per changes in governmental policies.”

Stigma-free treatment

The Emirati expert said the law helps reduce the stigma around mental health support. Citing data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), she said 1 in 4 people worldwide will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Almost 9 out of 10 people with a mental condition experience stigma and discrimination.

“Therefore, it is important to encourage open discussions and ensure continued care and support even after providing the necessary treatment. This is what the new law is calling for, sending a message that seeking help for mental health issues is a positive step toward better mental well-being, which will support in reducing the stigma often associated with this type of patient care and encouraging a more accepting attitude towards mental health concerns.”

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