The Effect of Coronavirus on Employment in Switzerland

Frequently Asked Questions (updated 31st May 2021)

In Switzerland the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths continues to drop. Vaccination rates are climbing steadily in line with other European countries. The situation has improved to the extent that the Federal partial shutdowns will be further lifted as reported on 26th May by the Federal Parliament in Bern.

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?

This FAQ answers the most important questions arising and will be updated as things develop. You are welcome to bookmark and follow us on linkedin or facebook. Please note the information below is provided without guarantee or warranty.

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

Work permit applications are being processed in the same way as before the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those arriving from countries on the high risk list (even if they enter via an intermediate country not of high risk) quarantine may be required. Here is the current Swiss list of COVID-19 high risk countries.

People entering from a region not on the risk list, or a region bordering Switzerland, by road, rail or boat will not need to present a negative PCR test, nor will they need to quarantine. However, those entering by public transport from a place that does not border with Switzerland will need to complete an entry control form.

Foreign nationals from COVID-19 high risk countries outside the EU/EFTA area will only be admitted into the country if they have a work or residence permit – Schengen tourist visas are not being issued to them for other than exceptional reasons.

Can employees on a Swiss payroll work from home abroad if they cannot come to Switzerland due to Swiss health regulations?

From 1st January 2021, if an employee is prevented from coming to Switzerland from their location abroad under Swiss health rules, they may work from home abroad and still remain on the Swiss payroll. As soon as the Swiss health rules allow, they can no longer work abroad and must come to work in Switzerland for which they may need a work permit.

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

Employees must work from home if at all possible unless the employer has imposed a test regime based on weekly self tests, in which case they can come to work. The self-tests can be obtained at no charge from any local Apotheke when producing a Swiss Health insurance card (5 tests every 30 days). Those on site must still adhere to social distancing and wear masks at all times. The employer does not need to compensate employees for equipment, rent, data or electricity costs of working at home. People in a high risk group (with health conditions that would endanger them if catching the virus) must stay at home unless it is vital they come to the office. If they cannot work they will be compensated in full. The COVID insurance scheme will cover them.

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

For those who can work in the office, 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.

Exceptionally, people in a high risk group (with health conditions that would endanger them if catching the virus) must stay home and isolate, either working (where possible) or not, and their time must be paid (not compensated with overtime or their holiday entitlement).

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

No, and this cannot be a reason for dismissal. However the employee may not be covered for work they cannot perform due to any resulting quarantine. (See the appropriate question in this FAQ).

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

If the employee is quarantined at home while in Switzerland by order of the authorities for example due to contact tracing, this is beyond their control and they cannot work from home, they are entitled to a special loss of work compensation. This compensation amounts to 80 percent of the income based on the AHV salary that was earned before entitlement to compensation began, up to a maximum of CHF 196 per day. The maximum daily allowance is paid to employees with a monthly salary of CHF 7350 (7350 X 0.8 / 30 days = CHF 196 per day), or self-employed persons with an income subject to AHV of CHF 88 200 (88 200 x 0.8 / 360 days = CHF 196 per day). There is no minimum level of compensation. In the event of partial loss of income, compensation amounts to 80% of the corresponding loss of income and is paid for the entire period.

If the employee has 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.

If the employee is quarantined when returning from a high risk area that is on the Swiss government list of high risk countries, they do not have the right to payment by the employer for lost work time, unless they were on official business, or unless they are able to work effectively from home while in isolation.

The employee may however qualify for government compensation if the country they are returning from was not on the high risk list (and not announced as going on the list) when they went to it. In this case they need to apply to the appropriate OASI compensation office.

Please note that not quarantining is an offence under the Epidemie Act, even if a COVID-19 test is negative, and even if the employee entered Switzerland by transiting through a country not on the high-risk list. Details for travellers are here.

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

The notice period and rules for termination by employer or employee remain unchanged due to Coronavirus. 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” (furlough) 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 but the employee has to agree to the Short Term working (this is usually in their interest).

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

Anyone who loses their job, regardless of nationality and work contract can receive benefit at 80% salary as long as they have worked in Switzerland or the EU/EFTA/UK for a minimum qualifying period. 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.

Since 20th January 2021 compensation for short-time working (furloughing) is once again supported under special COVID-19 rules:

  • the simplified application and settlement procedure that was established during the COVID-19 period.
  • the maximum period over which short time work can be claimed will be 18 months.
  • the maximum period which can be applied for will be 3 months, after which new advanced notification (1 day) must be resubmitted.

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.
  • 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.
  • The employee cannot be under notice of termination but can now be working on a fixed term contract.

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 18 months in any 2 years, although there is a 4 month limit on compensating more than 85%.

How are business trips being regulated?

All travel is to be kept to a minimum. 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.
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.