“Employer has reneged on all agreed terms. What are my rights?”

Question: Hi, Alan. I joined a company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a Health and Safety Executive (or “HSE”) Manager. Though I have been here for over three weeks, the employer has not provided me with anything that was stipulated in my contract. I have not received the promised accommodations, vehicle or even pay (today is pay date.)

 I have given 30 days notice. What rights do I have? Can they fire me? Answer gratefully received.  

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Answer: Hi, Alan. Bearing in mind that I am not licensed to practice law in Saudi Arabia, or Great Britain where I believe you traveled from, here are my thoughts on your situation:         

1. Generally speaking, you have a right to what was promised in your contract – if anything. The first place to look to determine your rights is the contract you signed with your employer. That contract may give you ample and robust rights, and then again, it may give you nothing at all in the way of rights. Generally speaking, you have a right to have your employer fulfill each of the promises made to you in the contract. Even in different cultures, the notion of a right to “contractual promises” is near universal.

2. You may also have certain rights not by your contract, but by local law. In addition to what may be in your employment contract, local laws often give employees additional rights. In some places, certain employees – even if they have no contract – have a right to (a) additional monies (often called “overtime”) after working 40 hours in a week, (b) minimum notice before being fired or laid off, (c) a safe work place environment, and (d) paid holidays, healthcare and meals. It would seem to me that the local law in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia would be the “local law” that would be applicable to your situation because you are located there, and the work you were supposed to do was there. You might try to find a local attorney to guide you.   

3. Having rights is one thing; enforcing rights is another thing altogether. Sad as it may be, just because you have some legal rights, doesn’t mean that those rights will be honored. That is, you may need to “convince,” “motivate” or “scare” your employer into honoring your rights. Don’t think the only way to do that is to bring them to a court. We often recommend a letter be sent to the CEO, or the members of the Board of Directors, respectfully requesting that promises be fulfilled, with the unwritten but implied notion that public lawsuits are not good for corporate reputations. Then again, you may have to bring a suit in a court, either by yourself (in law, we call that the Latin phrase “pro se”) or with the help of a local attorney.

4. First, you need to determine where to enforce your rights. As a general rule, legal rights can be enforced in any court in any country where the employer does business of some kind. And, as you can imagine, courts in some countries are “friendlier’ and easier to use than courts in other countries may be. I believe that you came to Saudi Arabia from Great Britain. If your employer has offices or does business in Great Britain, that may be the best place to enforce your legal rights. By the way, your employment contract might stipulate (a) in what courts you can bring suit, and even (b) what country’s law applies. Where to enforce your right is both a strategic and tactical issue that an experienced attorney can guide you through.

5. To answer your second question: Yes, though you have given a resignation notice of 30 days, in most countries an employer can still fire you in the meantime. In most places, the law says that during the time of your “resignation notice,” your employer may choose to end the relation before the notice period expires by firing you. That is a risk that most employees take in being honorable to their employers. I admire your self-respect in giving 30 days notice, but I also must “warn” you that your employment could also end abruptly at your employer’s choosing.  

Alan, thanks for writing in from Saudi Arabia; to my knowledge, you are our first question-submitter from that country. I hope this helps. And I hope, too, that you get out of your messy situation without too much grief, and find new work for a more honorable employer.  

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Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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