QATAR. Despite the grim global economic landscape of the past few years, the number of construction sites in Qatar has increased steadily.
As the construction sector continues its seemingly unabated growth, companies are increasingly cognisant of the importance of implementing effective health and safety policies, particularly in respect of site safety.
Construction sites by their very nature tend to expose employees to heightened risks of accidental injury or even death, and the implementation and observation of effective policies are an integral part of mitigating those risks.
Yet the effectiveness of a comprehensive safety regime may be undermined if the requisite policies are not followed, or worse, are ignored by employees, managers or supervisors.
Furthermore the implementation of a health and safety regime, even if followed, does not guarantee that harm will not befall employees on-site. So what happens when an employee is injured or killed, and will a company be liable in such circumstances?
This article sets out an overview of some of the more relevant provisions of Qatar law.
Liability For Treatment
In the unfortunate event that an employee is seriously injured or killed on-site , the employer is required pursuant to Article 108 of Law No (14) of 2004 ("Labour Law") to report the incident to both the police and the labour department at the Ministry of Labour ("Labour Department"). Depending on the severity of the injury, or in the event of death, the police may initiate an investigation into the events leading to the harm.
In relation to medical care, according to Article 109 of the Labour Law, the employer is liable for payment of the employee's medical treatment. During recuperation the employee is entitled to payment of his full salary for a period of two weeks, and then may receive a payment of half his salary for a further 4 weeks.
The employee will not be entitled to salary payments where his recuperation extends beyond 4 weeks. If after 12 weeks a physician confirms that the employee is not able to return to work, then the employer may terminate the employee's service.
It is worth noting that according to Article 111 the employer will not be required to cover the medical expenses of an injured employee if he (1) had intended to injure himself, (2) was under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol, (3) ignored the safety instructions or committed gross negligence in that regard, or (4) without justifiable cause refuses to adopt the treatment prescribed to him by a physician.
Interestingly, the indemnity from liability for medical treatment provided in the Labour Law does not indemnify completely the employer from other forms of liability.
The Labour Law in Article 42 requires an employee to exercise the care of an ordinary person when performing his employment activities. Furthermore, Article 42 requires employees to follow the instructions of their employers and to follow the safety and health precautions with respect to work. Article 42 therefore sets out the mandatory provisions of law with respect to employees observing and obeying the health and safety regime set out by their employers.
With respect to civil liability, Law No (22) of 2004 promulgating the Civil Code of Qatar ("Civil Code") in Article 209 provides that a "superior" (i.e. employer) is liable for the detriment caused as a result of an unlawful act by his "subordinate" (i.e. employee) where that act was committed during the course of the subordinate's employment. This principle is known as "vicarious liability".
On the basis of the foregoing, where an employee disregards the health and safety instructions of his employer resulting in the injury or death of another employee or third party, the manager (or indeed the company) may be liable for the acts of the employee who caused the harm.
Furthermore, where a manager commits an unlawful act that results in the injury or death of an employee or third party, it may follow that the manager's superior may also be liable for the unlawful act of that manager.
With regard to criminal sanctions, Law No (11) of 2004 ("Penal Code") provides in Article 311 that where a person causes mistakenly the death of someone as a result of negligence, ignorance of the law, or failure to observe the law and regulations, he shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than 3 years and/or a fine of not more than QAR 10,000. The imprisonment may be reduced to a period up to a year where the victim's heir forgives the offender.
Article 312 of the Penal Code provides that where a person is mistakenly injured as a result of another's negligence, ignorance of the law, or failure to observe the law and regulations, the person causing the injury shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 6 months and/or a fine of not more than QAR 1,000.
However, pursuant to Article 313 the penalties set out in Articles 311 and 312 are doubled where the death or injury occurs at the individual's workplace, or if the injury or death occurred due to one of the exceptions under Article 111 of the Labour Law (intoxication, disregard for safety standards, etc).
In addition to individual liability, Article 37 provides that a company shall be liable for the crimes committed by its representatives, directors, agents, or employees acting in its name on its behalf. Although imprisonment will not apply to the company, it may be subject to a fine of up to QAR 500,000.
Follow instructions – or else
The occurrence of an accident or death on-site can subject individuals to substantial penalties and imprisonment, as well as expose companies to heavy fines and reputational damage.
Although training and policy awareness are essential elements of any health and safety regime, an understanding of the adverse consequences of failing to observe such policies can go a long way in ensuring that employees comply with the health and safety measures implemented by their employers.
Note: All Qatari Laws (save for those issued by the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) to regulate its own business) are issued in Arabic and there are no official translations, therefore for the purposes of drafting this article we have used our own translation and interpreted the same in the context of Qatari regulation and current market practice.
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