Recently we have seen a gradual shift in the importance placed on mental health in Qatar.
While Qatar's ambition to develop a healthy population both physically and mentally, general feedback from Qatar's employment market in the past has been that mental health is not taken seriously in the workplace; many argue that this is because it is treated as a sickness rather than a workplace injury.
The perception of mental health is something Qatar is trying to tackle through its various healthcare initiatives.
Qatar launched its National Mental Health Strategy in 2013 with a vision to provide the best possible services for citizens and change attitudes towards mental illness.
It is recognized within this strategy that, in order to optimize Qatar's continued and sustained economic growth, health and wellness of employees must be valued.
Qatar's national healthcare strategy for 2018-2022 has identified 12 priority areas of focus, one of which covers people affected by mental health conditions.
In addition, one of the key focus of the World Summit for Health Summit in Qatar at the end of last year was mental health, recognizing that healthcare community has long focused its efforts on physical health and has not prioritized mental health.
Perception is definitely changing in Qatar and it is therefore time for mental health to be taken more seriously in the workplace.
Is mental health and workplace injured under the Qatar laws?
Law No 16 of 2016 (Mental Health Law) has been established to address the rights of citizens and residents in relation to their mental health treatment.
Under the Mental Health Law:
"Mental Health" is defined as a state of mental and social well-being where the person can make achievements depending on his / her personal capabilities and be able to handle normal stresses of life and work productively to make a contribution to the community "
"Psychological Mental Disorder" is defined as "any disorder of psychological or mental functions that may hinder person's adaptation to his / her social environment, other than those who have behavioral disorders only"
l "Mental Capacity" is defined as "the patient's ability to understand and realise the procedures and information provided to him and to take a sound decision accordingly"
These definitions are interesting when considering this in the context of occupational diseases or "work injuries" that have occurred at the workplace.
The definition of "work injury" means "suffering by the worker from any of the occupational diseases listed in schedule No 1 to this law or any injury resulting from an accident occurring to the worker during the performance of his work …."
The Qatar Labor Law was drafted with the more typical workplace injuries in mind for example physical injuries.
Therefore, the injuries listed in Schedule 1 are very specific to physical injuries that can occur in a work environment and therefore do not refer to any psychological injuries.
However, the second part of the definition "or any injury resulting from an accident happening to the worker during the performance of his work" is quite wide.
Furthermore, Article 100 of Law No 14 of 2004 (Qatar Labor Law) states that:
"The employer shall take all precautionary measures for the protection of workers during work from any injury or sickness that may result from work done in his establishment or from any accident, breakdown or breakdown of machinery and equipment therein or from fire". This definition is also quite broad and could therefore be conceivably extended to apply to mental health injuries.
Law No 15 of 2016 (Human Resources Law, which applies to civil servants and government related agencies) states that "death due to overwork or stress and fatigue shall be considered a work-related injury, provided that it is proved by a medical report issued the competent medical authority "and" in the event of death or total … or partial disability, the employee or his / her heirs shall be entitled to compensation for the work-related harm ". This suggests that a mental state such as "stress" can be classified as a "work-related injury" where compensation is payable if it partially disables, completely disables or causes the death of the individual.
If "stress", which can be defined as "a state of mental or emotional strain", can be considered a workplace injury, then "mental health" as defined under the Mental Health Law may also be considered in the same way .
How should mental health be dealt with in practice?
If mental health is a 'sickness' rather than an occupational 'injury' then it may be arguable that mental health (as sickness) is caught under Article 100 of the Qatar Labor Law which states that precautionary measures should be taken by employers to protect employees from "any injury or sickness that may result from the work done in his establishment". Whilst the sickness is not defined as a "occupational injury", it is clear that employers are responsible for ensuring that their 'sickness' does not occur as a result of their employment.
Whether the employee will be compensated for 'sickness' caused on the workplace is still unclear.
In practice with mental health, it is harder to establish when the "injury" occurred and where,
if any preventative measures could have been taken by employers and how much did the workplace contribute to mental illness.
However, given the current initiatives on mental health and the approach taken by the Qatar government, it is advisable that employers start taking this seriously and implement preventive measures in line with their existing health and safety practices such as introducing employee support programs.
The introduction of a law dedicated to mental health in 2016 was a clear indication that this is an important focus area for Qatar.
While the Mental Health Law focuses mainly on how patients are treated for mental health within a treatment facility and therefore does not apply in everyday practice, the definitions within the law provide some further clarity and help to determine how authorities are beginning to view mental health.
There are various laws in Qatar that touch upon the issue of "mental well-being", but there is no concrete answer to how mental health should be dealt with in practice, especially at the workplace.
This may be because employers do not regularly deal with mental health problems and / or the fact that they are not aware of any rights when it comes to mental health at work.
Qatar's National Health Strategy seeks to target this by 2022, and to improve research data on mental health in order to provide evidence-based mental health policies, plans and services.
The strategy also aims to increase community awareness of mental health.
With Qatar's healthcare initiative 2018-2022 and the current global focus on mental health, we expect the introduction of guidance in this area to establish how mental health should be dealt with in practice and especially at workplace to address this specific issue.
Note: Qatari Laws are issued in Arabic and there are no official translations, so for the purposes of drafting this article, Clyde & Co LLP has used its own translations and interpreted the same in the context of Qatari law, regulation and current market practice.
l If you have any questions in connection with this article or the legal issues it covers, please contact Emma Higham ([email protected]).