How Saudi labor law caters to women
It has been observed that labor law issues receive a wide response from employees and business owners. Mostly, employees and employers will refer to this system only when they need to, without paying attention to the small duties and rights.
I believe that both parties have rights and duties that they are unaware of which are very important and reflect directly on their performance. In this series on the Saudi labor system we will talk briefly about the most important terms affecting the employee’s job and the employer’s decisions.
Therefore, the current focus is more on the empowerment of women and the great emphasis on their rights and equality with their male colleagues, owing to their impressive contribution in the wheel of Saudi development, and their significant efforts in the development of the national economy.
The Saudi labor law is representing the rights of the female employee through 11 legal provisions. The system began to emphasize the inadmissibility of employing females in hazardous jobs and tasks that can harm them because of their sensitive physical nature, such as the extraction of minerals and stones and sanitation.
This provision has obliged the employer to provide the comfort and privacy they need in their workplace. In addition, in accordance with social customs and traditions, evening working hours that exceed 11 hours is explicitly restricted to a direct decision by the minister of labor and social development. The employer is required to provide the proper medical care during the employment contract.
It should be noted that these exceptions are not made for females to differentiate them from their colleagues, but as a consideration of their reproductive role, which is accompanied by many stages that force them to take a certain care for their own safety such as pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
Therefore, the law prohibits the employer from dismissing or warning the female employee during her period of maternity leave or during a period of her illness resulting from pregnancy or delivery (where the illness must be proven through an approved medical report and during the 88 days before the delivery).
On the other hand, to ensure that the employer is not harmed, the law stipulates that the period of absence shall not exceed 180 days.
Furthermore, the labor law takes into account the post-natal phase, in which the employers of more than 50 employees are required to provide a suitable place with a number of nursemaids to take care of children under the age of six. Also, there is an option for the employer to establish an independent or joint nursery in the case of an increase in the number of female employees to 100. However, this procedure takes place based upon the decision of the minister of labor and social development. In addition, the employee is able to obtain an additional hour’s break during working hours to breastfeed and take care of her child.
For this reason, a working woman has the right to 10 weeks’ full-time maternity leave. This leave begins four weeks before the proposed date of the delivery. The proposed date of the child’s birth must be determined by a medical report certified by a certified institution. The system prohibits the employment of women within the six weeks after the child’s birth and has the right to extend such leave for an additional month without payment. If the employee gave birth to a sick baby who requires special attention, she can take a month’s leave in excess of her basic maternity leave. If she wishes to receive an additional month, she can receive it without payment.
In accordance with the rules of the Islamic Shariah, the labor law gives the woman who is predeceased by her husband leave for a period of not less than four months and ten days. Moreover, if the husband of a non-Muslim employee dies, she may also receive full-time leave for 15 days.
On the other hand, the law has warned in several instances that it is not permissible for an employee to work during her period of leave for another establishment, where the employer has the right to recover the payments related to her Leave.
Finally, the rights of female employees should not be limited to the provisions mentioned above, and all the rights guaranteed to their colleagues should be applied starting from the prohibition of any discrimination in wages between males and females. We look forward to the modernization of some of the materials to catch up with the new entity for women and their employment for new and different jobs, including the military.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers.