How the law protects your job in this pandemic
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic obviously affects many aspects of the daily lives of individuals and organizations as well, not least contractual labor relations between companies and their employees.
Because of the impact of the pandemic on the operations of businesses and institutions, especially those that depend on the commercial exchange of goods and services, some of them may be tempted to break the law in order to maintain their financial performance in the face of such challenges.
For example, an employer may seek to reduce or suspend staff salaries until attendance restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus have ended. By law, the period during which employees’ attendance at work is suspended must be treated as an official holiday, and the employer has no right to make deductions from staff wages. Moreover, this period may not be calculated as part of an employee’s annual leave, or even sick leave.
A company may also try to persuade employees to take unpaid leave. This is also illegal without the employee’s written consent, and employees may not be threatened with dismissal if they do not comply.
In the event of any deduction from an employee’s wages without their consent, or without a legitimate reason, the employee will have the right to submit a complaint to the labor court, which will instruct the employer to repay what was deducted.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has made it clear that employment contracts are binding on all parties, and temporary special circumstances such as the restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus do not reduce an employer’s legal obligations.
The ministry has also made it clear to all companies that they must observe all relevant laws and regulations, and the ministry is open to hearing any complaints related to breaches of these regulations through its usual online and telephone channels.
Some employers may take the view that the coronavirus crisis exempts them from many of their duties and obligations under the law, especially since the changes in work practices, imposed suddenly and without notice, have greatly affected their operations and reduced their revenue.
However, responsible and well-managed companies should already have crisis management plans in place, to reduce any damage to the minimum, and mitigate the consequences.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal counsel and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif