Middle East: Getting Back to Business in the COVID-19 Era

May 22, 2020

Businesses in the Middle East should prepare back-to-work plans while also listening to guidance from health and government authorities as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues.

Here's what you should know about reopening in certain areas.

Israel

Content provided by Herzog, Fox & Neeman
Contact:
Liat Maidler
Partner
+972 3 692 2871
maidlerl@hfn.co.il
 
Current national guidance or requirements regarding returning to work
 
As part of the market's continued return to activity, the government has enacted new amendments to Israel Emergency Regulations (Limiting the Number of Employees in the Workplace to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus), 2020 (the "Regulations"). The Regulations established the "Purple Seal" Certificate, which allows businesses to operate under certain limitations, and for as long as those limitations are complied with. The limitations include (but are not limited to) the obligation to wear a face mask, to maintain social distancing and to examine employees' body temperature and have them answer questionnaires regarding their symptoms, on a daily basis.
 
Simultaneously, restrictions previously imposed on workplaces are being gradually lifted or softened. Recently, many workplaces were given the opportunity to increase the maximal physical attendance of their employees at the workplace, provided they met the necessary conditions, in accordance with the "Purple Seal" Certification.
 
For additional updated information regarding the guidelines for employers and employees, please refer to HFN's update.
 
Logistical limits regarding social distancing and size of meetings
 
A recent amendment to the Regulations, permits holding professional meetings of up to eight individuals (which are not necessarily employees), in a room of over 20 sq. meters.
 
Additionally, the Regulations now state that the reception of clientele will only be conducted when the service cannot be performed by other means. Furthermore, employers are required to regulate the entrance of clientele in accordance with specific instructions.
 
Face masks are not required, when the employee works from an open space booth, which has a partition of at least 1.50 meters high, separating between the employee and other individuals, provided that the employee not wearing the mask is seated.
 
Testing requirements (e.g. taking people’s temperatures) or recommendations including employee monitoring
 
Workplaces that are "Purple Seal" self-certified have to meet certain requirements such as monitor employees' body temperature (employers who are not subject to "Purple Seal" Certificate have to check employees body temperature, if it is possible). In addition, all employers are required to inquire employees regarding symptoms, maintaining distance between employees, enforce to wearing of face masks etc. Please refer to section 1 for further details regarding the regulatory limitations imposed on workplaces. 
 
Compensation or remuneration issues
 
During COVID-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Labor, Welfare and Social Services published guidelines on obtaining a permit to place protected employees under the Employment of Women Law on unpaid leave due to the spread of the Coronavirus. Please refer to Herzog update for further details.
 
Furthermore, Israel has adopted guidelines regarding special grants and payment of unemployment benefits or a special allowance for those who are dismissed or placed on unpaid leave due to COVID-19, as detailed under the Herzog update. Last month, the terms for entitlement for grants for self-employed were - please  refer to the following Herzog update for more information.
 
Data collection and privacy
 
The Protection of Privacy Authority in the Ministry of Justice (the "PPA") has stated that entities that collect information about individuals as part of an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 must inform the individual, whether he/she is under a legal obligation to provide information or whether providing the information is voluntary, what is the purpose for which the information is sought, to whom will the information be provided and for what purpose. The PPA also states in this regard, that the information requested, should be used solely for the purpose for which it was collected (e.g. prevention of the spread of the COVID-19, epidemiological research, ensuring the safety of workers at risk, etc.). Any use of the information for a different purpose than the one for which it was collected in the first place (and without the consent of the data subject for such use), may give rise to an infringement of privacy.
 
In addition, such entities must ensure that every person has the right to access the information about him/her, that has been collected and kept in their database. If a person finds that this information is incomplete, not accurate or up to date, then he/she has the right to demand that the information be corrected or deleted.
 
Furthermore, the PPA issued guidelines regarding employers' conduct, in relation to the entrance of employees and visitors to the workplace. According to the recommendations, employers must ask for attending employees' and visitors' symptoms (and refrain from asking further questions regarding the employee's health, other than those required by regulations). In order to protect the privacy of such individuals, the PPA mandates that the employer will refrain from collecting the data, beyond that which is required according to the regulation or from collecting signed declarations in this regard.
 
For further details regarding the interface between data collection and privacy regulations and the measures taken to slow COVID-19 spread, please refer to the following Herzog update.
 
Other important issues
 
Certain limitations regarding going out to public areas were lifted, excluding specific places to which access is still restricted (such as beaches, bars, restaurants, parks, museums, theatres, movie theatres, etc.). Social gatherings of up to 2 individuals indoors and up to 50 individuals outdoors are now permitted. Sport activities, can be conducted individually, or with a permanent partner, without face mask. In general, during physical presence in public areas, the regulations require the wearing of face masks, keeping a distance of 2 meters between individuals, and to maintain personal hygiene. 

   

Kuwait

Content provided by Al Markaz Law Firm

Contact:
Nazih Abdul Hameed
Senior Associate
nazih@markazlaw.com
+965 2246-4640

Current national guidance or requirements regarding returning to work

As of 10 May 2020 the Kuwaiti government declared a total lockdown in the country until 30 May 2020 and as a result no member of the public is permitted to leave their homes except for essentials such as food and health emergencies.  However, at present the government is studying the strategy on the re-opening of the country, which it is assumed will include the guidance and requirements regarding returning to work.  At present we understand that the government will adopt a phased approach to the re-opening of certain public and private sector which will address the guidance and requirements related to returning to work. Prior to the total lockdown, public services were being processed and conducted on-line to the extent possible to avoid any direct interaction between individuals.  Presently, the country is in total lockdown and therefore there is no clear guidance/requirements as to returning to work.

Logistical limits regarding social distancing and size of meetings

Prior to the total lockdown, the government issued mandatory social distancing in public places with individuals required to maintain a distance of 2 meters with the use of face masks and gloves.  Additionally, the government limited the number of individuals permitted to enter into supermarkets for purchasing essentials and limited the shopping time to 30 minutes for each individual.   Additionally only one member of each household was permitted entry for purchasing essentials.  The household member was required to register for a shopping appointment on-line registration.  Upon registration a bar-code was generated and sent to the relevant household member via their mobile phones.  With regards to ‘meetings’, presently government officials are conducting in-person meetings by maintaining a distance of 2 meters where online meetings are not possible.  

Testing requirements (e.g. taking people’s temperatures) or recommendations including employee monitoring

Prior to the total lockdown, entry into public places (essential services-food/health) was preceded by the taking of temperature of the entrants.

Cleaning recommendations or requirements

There have not been any specific directives issued by the government towards the cleaning requirements however, all government owned facilities such as ministries, public authorities etc, have been conducting deep-cleaning.  The government has recommended that the private sector conduct deep cleaning and regular cleaning of all common areas on a regular basis.  However there are no specific directives issued with regards to the cleaning materials and frequency of the cleaning. 

Compensation or remuneration issues

The government has continued the payment of all wages and subsidies to its citizens since February 2020 to date.  Furthermore, repayment of loans have been suspended by the government until further notice.  Additionally, the period of absences resulting from the lockdowns and other government restrictions are not to be considered ‘absence from work’ as provided for under the employment law and therefore all employees (public and private) are entitled to the full benefits provided under the applicable employment laws without any deductions.

Data collection and privacy

The government is currently recording all covid-19 cases and maintain a complete record of infected persons along with their nationality, home addresses and civil identity card numbers.  This information is maintained with the government sector and thus far there is no clarity whether this information will be available to prospective employers when screening prospective employees.  We expect that data privacy may be relaxed by the government in the future but there is no definitive guideline on this issue yet.

Other important issues

Other issues that are quite pertinent are the stranded work force outside of the country, their impending return and the procedures that will be followed by the government for repatriation including health checks, quarantine periods and subsequent resumption of work by the returning work force.  As yet there is no clear guidance on these issues and it is assumed that following the total lockdown the government will issue regulations and guidelines to address these matters.

    

Qatar

Content provided by Sultan Al-Abdulla & Partner

Contact:
Salman Mahmood
Partner
+974 44 42 0660, Ext. 230
smahmood@qatarlaw.com

Current national guidance or requirements regarding returning to work

Private sector employers are required to reduce the number of employees/workers present at the workplace to 20% of the total workforce. The decision excludes certain sectors including the military and security sectors, ministry of foreign affairs and diplomatic missions, health, oil and gas sector, major state projects, pharmacies and clinics, factories, maintenance companies, food retail outlets, catering companies, e-commerce and telecom companies, banks, restaurants, gas station and firms operating in ports, airports and custom services.

https://www.gulf-times.com/story/659797/80-of-private-sector-staff-to-work-from-home-from-

Working hours during Ramadan are between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm though a six-hour working day during Ramadan is prescribed by Article 73 of the Labour Law in any event. This decision excludes the certain sectors including food outlets and supermarkets, restaurants and cafes (delivery and takeaway only), coffee and dates shops, online delivery companies, telecom companies, pharmacies, petrol stations, hospitality companies, factories, gas stations and firms operating in ports, airports and custom services.

https://www.moci.gov.qa/en/mec_news/ministry-of-commerce-and-industry-issues-circular-on-determining-working-hours-for-commercial-activities-during-the-holy-month-of-ramadan/

Logistical limits regarding social distancing and size of meetings

Public and private organizations have been advised to conduct all employee meetings remotely. If physical attendance is necessary then the attendees should be no more than five in number.

https://www.gulf-times.com/story/659797/80-of-private-sector-staff-to-work-from-home-from-

Testing requirements (e.g. taking people’s temperatures) or recommendations including employee monitoring

Contracting and construction companies, equipment companies, technical, mechanical and carpentry workshops, offices and engineering laboratories and stores and warehouses are required to take the following precautionary measures in view of Covid-19:

  • To measure the body temperature of all employees twice a day and to isolate any worker with a high body temperature.
  • To prepare a list of elderly workers and employees with chronic illness conditions.
  • To comply with safe distancing measures both in the workplace and at home.
  • To commit to wearing masks and using sterilizers both at work and at home.
  • To abide by working hours and shift requirements and to ban gatherings in workplaces and homes.
  • Allow buses to only run at half the capacity of the bus.
 
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has issued a circular requiring restaurant owners to compel employees to comply with the health and safety requirements when preparing and delivering meals, which are:
  • Measuring the staff body temperature of the staff twice a day;
  • Providing sterilizers and disinfectants to all staff members;
  • Requiring staff to maintain a safe distance of one-and-a-half meters;
  • Providing staff with masks and gloves and compelling them to use them when preparing meals. Staff members shall also use gloves when handling tools that have been used by other people, and dispose of them properly;
  • Staff should wash their hands before and after preparing meals and processing payments; and
  • Placing orders in plastic bags, to be disposed of before the order is handed over to the consumer.
 
Cleaning recommendations or requirements
 
In addition to our responses to question 3 above, the Cabinet issued a resolution to compel all citizens and residents to wear masks upon leaving house for any reason other than when a person is alone while driving a vehicle. Non-compliance may result in fines up to QR 200,000 or a jail sentence for up to 3 years. https://www.gulf-times.com/story/663173/Wearing-of-masks-made-mandatory-outside-home-excep
 
Ministry of Public Health requires the manager of food establishments to measure the temperature of workers in hypermarkets and exclude any worker showing symptoms such as coughing or sneezing. In addition assuring all common surfaces are to be sanitized, but taking into account the need for disinfectants to be certified and compliant with the specifications circulated by the Ministry’s inspectors. https://www.moph.gov.qa/english/mediacenter/News/Pages/NewsDetails.aspx?ItemId=136
 
Ministry of Public Health ensures that an alcoholic hand sanitizer is provided to shoppers at the entrances of the hypermarket, in addition to sanitizing the shopping carts before handing them to the consumers. https://www.moph.gov.qa/english/mediacenter/News/Pages/NewsDetails.aspx?ItemId=136
 
Compensation or remuneration issues
 
The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour & Social Affairs announced that in cases where employment contracts are terminated, employers are required to provide adequate food and housing free of charge, or equivalent cash allowances, until the workers’ repatriation procedures are secured at the employer's expense. https://www.adlsa.gov.qa/en/news/Pages/news150402020.aspx
 
Qatar Development Bank announced the COVID-19 National Response Guarantees Program (“Program”). The Program is a guarantee scheme of the Government to help mitigate Covid-19 impacts by relieving private sector employers of critical short-term payments during the next 3 months (April, May, June of 2020) including staff salaries and rental payments.
 
The QDB will finance the following:
  • The staff payroll as per the Wage Protection System registry for a period of April, May and June of 2020, paid on a monthly pro-rata basis; and
  • Rental payments (factory, business outlet, warehouse and labour accommodation rent) for a period of April, May and June 2020. Paid on a monthly pro-rata basis.
In order to benefit from the Program, a company must:
  • be a private company incorporated under the regulations applicable to Qatar, which were impacted negatively by Covid 19;
  • have a valid commercial license issued from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry; and
  • not operate in the real estate, construction and contracting industries.
 
Data collection and privacy
 
No decision has been issued in this regard.
 
Other important issues
 
The government decided to suspend all commercial activities in shops and offices on Fridays and Saturday, with the exception of certain activities including food and subsidized supplies retail outlets, home repair and maintenance services, restaurants (delivery only), clinics, companies operating in the telecommunications and hospitality sector, construction companies in state-run projects, factories, pharmacies, petrol stations, logistic service companies and customs services etc. https://www.gulf-times.com/story/660346/All-commercial-activities-suspended-on-weekends
 
The Government will apply new entry and exit procedures applicable to a quarantined zone in the Industrial Area (Street 34 to Street 54). The new procedures include adhering to social distancing measures, wearing masks and operating at 50% capacity on worker transportation. In addition, employers will be required to ensure that all workers who are entering and exiting the area download and use the Ehteraz mobile application. https://thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/11/05/2020/New-entry-and-exit-procedures-for-Street-34-to-Street-54-in-Industrial-Area
 
The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs has called upon companies and workers to comply with the precautionary measures to ensure their safety while entering and exiting the Industrial Area from Street 1 to Street 32 which is being gradually opened. https://thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/09/05/2020/Ministry-issues-a-set-of-exit-and-entry-procedures-for-Industrial-Area