Dubai employee intimidated into handing back earnings while passport is being withheld

I have been working with a company in Dubai for the last nine months. Everything was fine until I was unable to close a few deals for the company. A few days ago I wanted to go to my own country for a holiday and my employer was not ready to release my passport. He forced me to sign a declaration stating I owed the company a certain amount and wanted a security cheque from me as a guarantee, or else they would not release my passport. Now he is demanding that I pay back the previous month’s full salary. I was frightened and did not know what to do, hence I signed the undertaking. They are expecting me to pay back all the expenses incurred by them for my visa and also a part of all the month’s salaries to be returned. The first months I performed extremely well and they gave me a commission. Now they want that back too. I am scared and don’t know what to do. AM, Sharjah

The employer is breaking a number of rules and this is poor practice, as is attempting to threaten and frighten employees. To start with employers are not legally permitted to retain an employee’s passport. In 2002 the UAE Ministry of Interior issued a circular which stated: “As the passport is a personal document that the law obliges its owner to keep and show when required by the governmental authorities, it is not allowed for any party to detain the passport except by the official parties with a judicial order and according to the law. Consequently it will be considered as an illegal action to detain the passport in the UAE except by the governmental parties”. This statement is still valid and nothing in UAE law permits employers to retain an employee’s passport for any longer than is required to obtain or cancel visas. Technically a passport is owned by the government that issues it rather than the individual, so any organisation that seeks to hold someone’s passport is illegally withholding government property. Furthermore, an employer cannot arbitrarily demand money from an employee, not as a spurious “guarantee”, or as a repayment of salary. Authorities in the UAE have publicly stated on many occasions that an employer cannot recover recruitment costs from an employee. Ministerial order 52 of 1989, Article 6, makes it clear that anyone seeking a job cannot be charged a fee nor can an employer ask an employee to cover this expense, even if they do leave sooner than expected. It is also very clear that all the expenses incurred in taking on an employee must be borne by the employer and cannot be passed on, no matter the circumstances. Even if an undertaking is signed, it is not binding in this situation, even more so if signed under duress. AM has the law on his side and should register a case with the Ministry of Labour. An individual can go to any labour office or contact the helpline on 800 665.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with over 20 years’ experience. Contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE.

The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only.

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