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UAE employers should consider implementing equality policies in light of anti-discrimination law, says expert

The United Arab Emirates recently implemented a law criminalising all forms of discrimination on the basis of religion, creed, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin this month, according to a report by Gulf News published on the UAE government site. 30 Jul 2015

This "increases the importance of UAE companies implementing and complying with internal equality policies which protect employee rights in relation to the characteristics identified," said Dubai-based employment expert Luke Tapp of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

Encouraging religious hatred or insulting religion through any "form of expression" has been criminalised, and the law includes punishment for calling groups or individuals infidels or unbelievers, Gulf News said. The law prohibits "any act that would be considered as insulting to God, his prophets or apostles or holy books or houses of worship or graveyards", Gulf News said.

Expressions of hatred or incitement to hate crimes in speech or published media are covered by the law, along with groups that are established to provoke religious hatred. Events such as conferences or meetings "with the sole purpose of sowing seeds of discrimination, discord or hatred" on the basis of faith, origin or race are also prohibited, Gulf News said.

Penalties will include jail terms of between six months and ten years, and fines from DH50,000 (£8.700) to Dh2 million. There are provisions allowing courts to waive penalties if people voluntarily hand themselves in to the authorities, the report said.

"The new anti-discrimination law is an extremely positive development and it makes the regulation of these issues within the UAE more aligned to the equality and non-discrimination provisions which are applicable in other international jurisdictions," said Tapp.

One key characteristic of the UAE anti-discrimination law is that its application is wider and more generic than similar regulations in international jurisdictions, Tapp said.

"The UAE provisions are intended to regulate the day to day activities of all residents and visitors to the UAE, whereas other international anti-discrimination provisions are often focussed on behaviour within the workplace only," Tapp said.

"A provision within the anti-discrimination law which is likely to have a direct impact on local employee relations is that which makes it unlawful to discriminate against individuals or groups on the basis of their religion, caste, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin. It will be interesting to see how this provision is implemented by employers within the UAE and the regulating authorities," Tapp said.