Expat Wins Wrongful Dismissal Suit Against Qatari Government Agency

LandofSand
By LandofSand

On 26 September 2023, the Qatar International Court – Dispute Resolution Centre (the QIC DRC) rendered a judgment of wrongful dismissal against the Qatar Free Zone Authority (QFZA) and awarded Mr. Aarnout Wennekers damages of QAR 1.23 million. 

Mr. Wennekers welcomed the Court’s decision as it confirmed his allegation the QFZA acted without providing him with due process, that it failed to follow its own HR policy and procedure, that it did not comply with Qatari HR law and it deported him in a permanently disabled state.

Mr. Wennekers is a former expatriate resident of Qatar (2010-22).  Prior to working for the QFZA (2019-22), he was an Advisor to the Minister of Energy and Industry and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Qatar Petroleum (now Qatar Energy) (2010 to 2019).

Mr. Wennekers was forced to bring a wrongful dismissal claim against the QFZA to the QIC DRC after he was wrongfully dismissed on 01 February 2022.  The QFZA terminated his employment the day Mr. Wennekers returned from 4 months of sick leave required to partially recover from spinal reconstructive surgery after two work place accidents.

At the time of dismissal, Mr. Wennekers had not fully recovered from injuries sustained at the QFZA.  Subsequent to his termination, and prior to his deportation, the QFZA chose to ignore all attempts made by Mr. Wennekers to settle the matter according to best international human resources practice and Qatari law.  He only sought relief from the Court as a last resort after the QFZA reneged on a settlement proposal it had agreed to earlier.

In its decision, the Court determined the QFZA failed to follow in general terms its own human resource policies and procedures regarding performance management, investigating an alleged code of conduct breach, and providing convalescence support to employees injured while on the job.  Furthermore, the Court noted the QFZA failed to provide Mr. Wennekers with access to fair hearings and due process prior to making a unilateral decision to terminate his employment.

In its defence, the QFZA argued it had planned to dismiss Mr. Wennekers for an undisclosed performance issue and a matter of a breach of code of conduct upon, or shortly after, his return to work.  However, the Court found the QFZA was unable to provide credible evidence or documentation to support its case.  The Court also found it failed to follow its own policy and procedure, and those required by the laws of the State of Qatar, that it failed to ensure Mr. Wennekers had fully healed from workplace injuries prior to his dismissal and deportation to Canada, and that it failed to compensate him fairly for his injuries or provide him with a disability pension given his permanently disabled state.

According to HR policy and procedure, the QFZA was supposed to provide employees with funds to cover workers compensation and short- and long-term disability insurance expenses during their employment.  Instead, the QFZA decided to save money and self-insure against work place accidents that would be normally covered by this form of insurance.  When confronted by a work place accident and the prospect of incurring expenses to cover Mr. Wennekers related recovery expenses and disability pension, the QFZA, instead of doing the right thing, chose to terminate his employment and ensured his deportation.

Mr. Wennekers was shocked by QFZA’s appallingly un-professional treatment and how it callously terminated him on his first day back to work while still recovering from surgery and still in a disabled state.  The QFZA’s illegal actions ensured he was effectively deported to Canada in a condition unable to work.  Mr. Wennekers says his permanent partial disability has made it difficult for him to find similar employment in Canada. 

Mr. Wennekers wonders if his treatment is an isolated case, or if there are other expatriate workers or labourers who worked in Qatar, for example for the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, and were injured and subsequently deported to their home country unable to find work and support their families?  He also wonders if his treatment is official Qatari Government policy?  It seems as if Qatar condones deporting expatriates injured on the job to avoid paying victims their rightful compensation.

Qatar’s energy sector is embarking on an aggressive and dangerous LNG expansion project that will require thousands of expatriate professional and highly skilled workers and labourers to complete.  There exists a risk that Mr. Wennekers’ experience will be repeated if proper regulation and oversight is not provided by the Qatari Government, human rights and labour focused NGOs.

Mr. Wennekers has lodged a Human Rights complaint against the QFZA with Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee for the egregious violation of his human rights that were ostensibly afforded to him by Qatari law whilst he was a resident of Qatar.  He will look to lodge complaints with other State agencies to obtain justice for his case and to ensure the horrendous treatment he received is not meted out to others who find themselves in a position similar to his.

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