An important means for Employers to protect their business, confidential information and secrets from departing employees is the arrangement of so-called post termination restriction clauses.
Article 127 of the Labour Code of the UAE provides that an employer may agree on a post-contractual non-competition clause with an employee who, due to their employment with the employer, has knowledge of the clients of the employer or confidential information or business secrets, as long as the employee is at least 21 years of age. A valid non-competition clause must be limited in time and is restricted both geographically and to a specific business area. In addition, the severity of the non-compete clause must be necessary in order to protect the legitimate interests of the employee.
Alongside this – with fewer restrictions for the employee – the following post-contractual clauses can also be agreed upon:
- Non-Poaching Clause: Undertaking by the employee not to poach any other employees in the event of leaving the employer;
- Non-Solicitation Clause: Prohibition against soliciting customers of the employer to oneself or to a new employer, following departure from the company; or
- Non-Dealing Clause: Prohibition against maintaining professional contact with clients of the employer, independent of the question of who established the contact.
A violation of a Non-Competition Clause or of the other above-mentioned Post-Termination Restrictions may lead to claims for damages of the employer against the (former) employee. The burden of proof – for instance, of a violation of the Non-Competition Clause – and of the damages lies with the (former) employer. As a general rule, the violation of the Non-Competition Clause can be proven relatively easily. This is not the case with the damages or the amount of the damages, as the existence of damages is not sufficiently demonstrable in numerous cases, as a result of which the (former) employer would lose the case.
However, there is a possibility that in a contract, in addition to the Post Termination Restriction, a contractual penalty is agreed upon for the case in which the Post-Termination Restrictions have been violated by the employee. Insofar as a contractual penalty of this kind has been agreed upon, the burden of proof will be reversed. The employer now only has to prove the violation of the restriction clause and will demand the agreed contractual penalty from the (former) employee. The employee now has to demonstrate that these agreed damages have not arisen, or are disproportionate. As the Civil Code, with regard to contractual penalties, contains provisions whereby a judge may ‘open’ a contractual penalty clause, caution is advised in the formulation of a contractual penalty.
The claim for damages against a former Employee must be made at the competent Labour Court. In this case it is important that before the commencement of the lawsuit – as in all matters of employment law – the parties have to take the case to the ‘Labour Department’, which will attempt to bring about an amicable settlement. It is only when these ‘conciliatory proceedings’ have failed that cases can be taken to the Labour Court. It should be emphasized that the ‘Dubai Court of Cassation’ has decided that failed ‘conciliatory proceedings’ due to unpaid wages do not entitle the employer to make claims for damages due to the violation of a Post-Termination Restrictions by a (former) employee. Separate ‘conciliatory proceedings’ are to be carried out for this purpose.