United Arab Emirates: An End To Harassment?

Last Updated: 7 September 2018
Article by Marc Saroufim

A new anti-harassment law in Saudi Arabia has signifi cant implications for employers in the Kingdom. Marc Saroufi m, Head of Corporate in Saudi Arabia at BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP examines the key considerations.

WHAT'S HAPPENED?

According to research by the World Policy Analysis Centre, 68 other countries do not currently provide any protections against harassment, specifically in the workplace. Saudi Arabia is ahead of the game in this area," Marc Saroufim states.

"The Kingdom published and implemented a new law which criminalises verbal or physical harassment or language deemed to harass on 8 June 2018."

"This Law includes sexual innuendo in its remit and contains protective, punitive and preventive provisions."

WHY?

"In part this has happened as a result of the current drive by Saudi authorities to assist the market in further maturing through the implementation of new laws and regulations. This has included the lifting of the long-standing ban on women obtaining driving licenses and driving in Saudi Arabia. Like that reform, Saudi Arabia Cabinet Decision No. 488/1439 is aimed at strengthening women's role in society there. This new anti-harassment law is part of this reformist drive and aims to ensure the physical person and dignity of individuals in Saudi Arabia is respected and not violated."

"It was actually introduced just weeks before the ban on women driving ended in June 2018," Saroufim adds.

"The relevant authorities are keen to remain active in reforming the social norms in the country."

"The aim is to ensure all individuals are able to live their lives without any harassment. The first point of note is that this law has been drafted in such a way that it clearly defines what is meant by harassment," Saroufim states.

"It lays out the relevant requirements private and public entities must follow in order to combat harassment. There are also penalties for violations. This new law adds an extra and welcome layer of protection to the public on anti-harassment since authorities in Saudi Arabia had to previously rely mainly on relevant interpretations of Sharia law principles governing this area (many of which were not offi cially codifi ed)."

DEFINITION OF HARASSMENT

"Saudi Arabia Cabinet Decision No. 488/1439 defi nes 'harassment' as verbal, physical, or sexual innuendo by one individual against another (including through social media) targeting that individual in any manner," Saroufi m explains.

"This new law seeks to essentially codify, to a relevant extent, certain material Sharia law principles which served to protect an individual's dignity (on a confi dential basis)."

COVERAGE

"It is important to note this law does not just protect women. Men are also covered and particular attention is paid to minors under 18 and people with special needs," Saroufi m notes.

"Any individual who has either suffered from harassment or those who witness it must report the violations."

"The law mainly focuses on public areas, workplaces, schools, care centres, orphanages and homes but also covers social media content."

EMPLOYER OBLIGATIONS

"Employers whether in the public or private sphere will need to take remedial action if there are any breaches of the law's requirements. In addition they must not try to prevent or replace a victim's right to raise a complaint to the authorities if there has been any case of harassment. Administratively, employers must include within their respective employee handbooks or manuals relevant procedures under which anti-harassment complaints are to be made and subsequently investigated, while at all times maintaining confi dentiality."

PENALTIES

"This new law ensures that various offenders would receive appropriate penalties which seek to prevent these individuals from acting contrary to the law's provisions," Saroufi m notes.

"For example if the victim of the harassment is a child or a person with special needs the perpetrator will be jailed up to two years and fi ned up to 100,000 Riyals or jailed up to fi ve years or fi ned 300,000 Riyals. In addition, these penalties will be imposed if the perpetrator was in a position of power or infl uence over the victim, or the harassment has occurred in a work place, an education institution or at a child care outlet."

"These penalties also apply if the victim and the perpetrator are the same sex, the victim was sleeping or unconscious at the time, or the harassment occurs at a time of crisis, accident, or disaster."

AIDING, ABETTING AND ATTEMPTS

"In addition those who assist in committing an act of harassment in any way will also face the same penalties as the actual person carrying out the harassment," Saroufi m continues.

"Someone who attempts to harass will be given up to half of the maximum sentence imposed on an actual offender."

"It is also worth noting there are stringent penalties where a false harassment complaint is made. In this case, the perpetrator will be given the sentence which matches the offence."

REGIONAL COMPARISONS

"At present, the Penal Codes in the other GCC countries specifi cally protect women from harassment and punish their harassment by words or actions." "In contrast this new Saudi law is wider in its application, because it is not restricted to women, applies to any individual regardless of gender and specifically covers the workplace."

"By comparison, there are no special laws or regulations in the UAE which provide protection from sexual harassment," Saroufim states.

"However, the UAE's Penal Code, Federal Law No. 3/1987 (as amended) prohibits any scandalous or disgraceful acts. Article 358 of Federal Law No. 3/1987 states 'Anyone who openly commits an indecent and disgraceful act will be jailed for a minimum of six months. Anyone who commits a disgraceful act with a girl or boy under 15 even if it is not committed in public will be jailed for up to a year'."

"In addition, under Article 359 of Federal Law No. 3/1987 'anyone who attempts to disgrace a woman through words or actions in a public street or place visited often will be jailed for up to one year and/or fined up to 10,000 AED."

"In the UAE, these penalties also apply to any man who disguises himself in woman's clothing and enters a place reserved for women. If a man commits a crime in this situation this will be considered an aggravating circumstance in this case."

"There are also other illegal acts contained in Articles 360 to 370 of Federal Law No. 3/1987 which are related to this area."

COMPLAINTS

"When it comes to complaints, under the UAE regime, a woman who is harassed can submit a complaint to the police specifying the type of harassment, the harasser(s), the time and place of harassment and state if there were any witnesses or evidence. Such complaints must be serious, clear and specific."

"Under the new Saudi law by comparison, anyone suffering or witnessing alleged harassment is under a duty to report the allegations. Public authorities can also raise complaints if they consider this to be in the public interest. It is worth noting that in Saudi now, Government and non-Government organisations, particularly in an employment context are under an obligation to take steps to prevent harassment."

WHAT'S NEXT?

"Private sector corporate entities in Saudi Arabia will need to make certain specific administrative changes to comply with the law," Saroufim explains.

"Following implementation of this new law, employers in all sectors must evaluate their current administrative procedures pertaining to antiharassment allegations (to the extent they exist) and execute or amend these to ensure full compliance with the new law's requirements. Needless to say, all stakeholders, managers, employees, and staff must be brought up to speed to ensure that this law is considered a fundamental pillar of the workplace environment," Saroufim concludes.

Originally published in Lexis Middle East Law Alert

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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