The Effect of Coronavirus on Employment in Switzerland

Frequently Asked Questions (updated 19 June 2020)

How does the Coronavirus affect you as an employer or employee in Switzerland? What are your legal rights and how do you stay healthy while avoiding financial or legal pitfalls?
Switzerland has very few infected people, hardly any new infections and no deaths from the COVID-19 virus. Therefore it is relaxing its lock down conditions considerably.
This FAQ answers the most important questions arising and will be updated as things develop, so you are welcome to bookmark and follow us on linkedin or facebook. Please note due to the rapidly developing situation we are not responsible for the correctness of this content.

Can employees come into Switzerland in order to work, and are work permits being issued?

From 15th June Switzerland’s borders are open to EU/EFTA and UK citizens. Workers of these countries with work permits can enter and work.

Work permit applications for EU/EFTA and UK nationals are being processed, the same way as before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who is to come to work and who is to stay home?

Most businesses are now open in Switzerland but subject to social distancing.

Generally employees can come to work as long as social distancing and hygiene rules are observed. This includes offices and also outdoor workplaces. However the employer must adhere to the current rule of a maximum number in any gatherings, and should allow employees to work from home wherever possible.

Exceptionally, people in a high risk group (65 years old or over, or with health conditions that would endanger them from catching the virus) may be permitted to stay home and isolate, either working were possible or not, and their time must be paid (not compensated with overtime or their holiday entitlement). However people at risk can be required to go to work if their physical presence is necessary.

Are employees allowed to stay away from work to avoid catching the virus?

No. Absence from work without official agreement of the employer is regarded as unauthorised absence: the employee is not entitled to be paid for this time off. They even risk dismissal without notice. However the employer must adhere to the current rules for social distancing, hygiene, and the maximum number in any gatherings, and should allow employees to work from home wherever possible: people should only be at work away from home where their physical presence is necessary and then for the minimum possible time.

Exceptionally, people in a high risk group (65 year old or over, or with health conditions that would endanger them from catching the virus) may be permitted to stay home and isolate, either working were possible or not, and their time must be paid (not compensated with overtime or their holiday entitlement). However they can be required to go to work where their presence is necessary.

Can an employer prevent an employee from travelling privately to a high risk area.

No, and this cannot be a reason for dismissal. However if the employee catches the virus while in such an area, then their resulting quarantine time does not have to be covered by the employer. The employer can require a COVID-19 test if they have grounds to suspect it could have been caught (e.g. because of travel in a high risk area).

However if the employee is quarantined at home in Switzerland by order of the authorities this is beyond their control and they are entitled to salary without compensating with holiday or overtime. If they have the virus, then the sickness insurance will pay for work lost during the quarantine and recovery period unless a waiting period has been agreed in the insurance contract. The only exception is if they caught the virus while being on holiday in a high risk area. In this case, unless they were on official bsuiness, the employer can withdraw payment of hours lost due to quarantine, but this is not easy to prove.

Must an employer pay an employee if they are caught in a quarantine while away from work, for example on holiday?

No, but the employee is free to compensate for the loss of wages by taking holidays or working overtime, otherwise the absence is unpaid.

However if the employee is quarantined at home in Switzerland by order of the authorities this is beyond their control and they are entitled to salary without compensating with holiday or overtime. If they have the virus, then the sickness insurance will pay for work lost during the quarantine and recovery period unless a waiting period has been agreed in the insurance contract. The only exception is if they caught the virus while being on holiday in a high risk area. In this case, unless they were on official bsuiness, the employer can withdraw payment of hours lost due to quarantine, but this is not easy to prove.

Can an employer still lay off (furlough) an employee or terminate their employment during the Coronavirus lock down?

The notice period and rules for termination by employer or employee reman unchanged due to Coronavirus. Minimum notice periods apply dependent on the length of employment. A fixed term employment contract ends on the pre-determined end date unless extended. An employee cannot be served notice while off sick, but this has not been extended to also apply to someone who is not sick but just quarantined.

The employer can likewise only lay employees off or cut their work weighting by serving notice respecting the above mentioned notice periods. An exception can be made if the employer applies for “Short term working” for a given department due to economic adversity. In this case they can partly or completely lay off relevant workers for a short period and the workers will be compensated in the same way as unemployed. In the case of Corona virus special more generous rules currently apply. Please see the relevant question in this FAQ:

Is there special financial help for employees terminated due to Coronavirus?

Yes: Because of COVID-19 the federal government has relaxed the criteria for who qualifies for unemployment payments.  Currently anyone who loses their job, regardless of nationality, work contract and how long they have been employed can receive benefit at 80% salary. However some sources say that the 12 month rule of previous contributions is still being applied. Although these months can be claimed from work in another EU country  this has become difficult to certify as currently most countries’ authorities are overloaded. If you have further experiences regarding this please let us know.

The application is now made simply by phone, no visit is required, and there will be no requirement to do training or look for a new job in the short term.

In the first instance you need to contact your local employment office. In Zürich a good place to start is

https://awa.zh.ch/internet/volkswirtschaftsdirektion/awa/de/arbeitsmarkt/beratung_im_rav/rav_standorte/stadt_zuerich.html

Can an employer claim short-time work (furlough) compensation for employees as a consequence of the current situation.

Compensation for short-time working is currently supported under the COVID-19 scheme for employees who began furloughing before end May.

Since 20 March this can also be applied for temporary workers or fixed term contracts. This has also been allowed for leased personnel and Accurity has managed to secure compensation for those of its contractors who have been laid off.

The essential rules for this cover are as follows:

  • There has to be a shortfall of at least 10% work hours collectively for employees in a given operational unit. (Note: it is not yet clear for personnel leasing agencies if an individual client would constitute an operational unit).
  • There must be a valid reason which is identifiable as a consequence of the pandemic. This could be that the work requires physical presence which is not possible under the federal rules, that the work depends on external suppliers or services that are not available, or that there is no demand for the work as a consequence of the virus.
  • The application must be made in advance of the work being curtailed.
  • People of a pensionable age (65 for men, 64 for women) are not eligible.
  • Under the COVID-19 arrangements there is no minimum work history required. Any contractor working is eligible under a fixed term, open-ended (permanent) or temporary contract
  • The employee cannot be under notice of termination.

The compensation takes the following form:

  • 80% of the gross salary (up to a gross salary limit of CHF 12’350 per month) payable based on the shortfall, plus the employer charges on this amount for social premiums (AHV/IV/ALV)
  • The remaining 20% salary does not have to be covered by the employer, but the social premiums on the full 100% salary (AHV Salary) have to be covered by the employer. This will include any insurance and pension premiums on the 100% salary.
  • The family allowance, pension premiums, accident/sickness insurances on the salary have to be covered by the employer
  • Holiday continues to be earned based on full salary. Holiday taken is not Short term work and is covered 100% by the employer.
  • Compensation can be paid for up to 12 months in any 2 years, although there is a 4 month limit on compensating more than 85%.

The forms for COVID-19 based short time work compensation to be filled by an employer are to be found in French, German, and Italien here.

Can self employed workers and freelancers claim financial compensation for loss of income?

Normally in Switzerland there is no state compensation for self employed or freelancers for loss of income due to loss of work except under certain conditions of disability.

However due to the current situation the Federal government is making up to CHF 3’200 per worker per month easily available from a “Corona Fund” to those self employed directly in business that have been shut down by the state. These include such workers as hairdressers and shop workers, gym trainers, non essential therapists.

Self employed and freelancers in other businesses (e.g. taxi drivers, tour guides, coaches) do not currently benefit: unless they have taken out private insurance they have to fall back on social welfare.

Freelancers with “One man companies” for example where they are directors or owners of their own GmbH will also normally find it difficult to obtain unemployment insurance even if they have been paying employee premiums, unless they relinquish their control and ownership.

Note: freelancers who are working through Accurity are its employees and therefore qualify under the same rules as any other employees for unemployment insurance and furlough compensation.

This is a major advantage of freelancing through Accurity.

How are business trips being regulated?

All travel is to be kept to a minimum and meetings are strictly limited to less than five persons. Social distancing is to be adhered to. Essentially only undertake business trips if absolutely necessary and subject to the general requirements regarding employees elsewhere in this FAQ. Cross border travel, even on business, is currently very difficult to have authorised as the borders are essentially closed except for exceptionally justified travel.
If an employee is prevented from returning to work as a result of quarantine whilst on a business trip the employer has to pay them for the time not being worked.

Where can I find more information on the Coronavirus in Switzerland?

This FAQ is compiled based on facts from the following sources:

Federal Ordinance on COVID-19
Centre Patronal
SECO
State Secretariat for Migration

If you have further questions feel free to contact us.

If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are always interested to know what people are concerned about regarding Swiss employment.

Please note the above information is provided without guarantee or warranty. Employment, tax and pension laws are dependent on your specific situation and can change quickly. To be sure of the facts always contact us directly for a verified up to date answer.