The Effect of Coronavirus on Employment in Switzerland

Frequently Asked Questions (updated 30 March 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?
As Switzerland progressively locks down, the rules are being disputed and changing rapidly. There is still uncertainty in several employment situations. Since Switzerland is a federation of 26 cantons, the way the rules are implemented can differ according to region.
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.

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

No one can enter Switzerland from a high risk country (which currently includes the entire EU) to work unless they meet one of the following requirements:

  • they are Swiss citizens
  • they already have a Swiss work permit or residence document/permit.

Workers who can demonstrate existing permission should not have a problem. However those coming to Switzerland and who have not yet registered locally for the official documents will not be admitted. This includes anybody from the EU/EEA. The freedom of movement agreement is effectively temporarily suspended.

The Swiss authorities are not currently processing work applications. Therefore we see effectively no new foreign employees coming to Switzerland until the current measures are lifted.

It may be possible for new employees to work from home in their own country for a short period. Accurity is keeping a very close eye on developments in this area.

Are employees who cannot come to Switzerland allowed to begin their employment working from abroad?

As a result of restrictions on entering Switzerland from abroad, some employees with employment contracts may be asked to start their employment by working from home. In this case the question arises if they are allowed to take up Swiss employment while being resident in another jurisdiction.

In principle this would not be supported, unless the employee already has established current residence status in Switzerland. The reason is because, if the employee is not resident in Switzerland the come under the social insurance rules of the country in which they are working, normally if more than 25% of the work is performed in that country.

However, since the work time is measured over a whole employment period the eligibility for social insurance will depend on what happens for the rest of the year: if the employee later can come to work in a Swiss office then the 25% rule may be covered.

Accurity is looking into this grey area to see how the EU rules will be interpreted under the current circumstances.

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

All business and establishments are closed to the public except for those providing vital provisions and services, such as healthcare, public transport, food and medicine, and official offices.

Generally employees should come to work unless told otherwise. This includes offices and also outdoor workplaces. 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 this is currently under dispute and the latest Federal Ordinance removed this stipulation: people at risk can be required to go to work.

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 this is currently under dispute and the last Federal Ordinance removed this stipulation: people at risk can be required to go to work.

Can an employee stay at home if they have to care for children for whom schools have been shut?

For children under the age of 12 employees are allowed to be off work to care for them.

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.

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 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:

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

Yes: compensation for short-time working is currently supported with minimum paperwork. Federal funding has been allocated. Although employers have the right to serve notice on employees as usual, they are encouraged instead to apply to their relevant unemployment office for compensation for laying people off.

Since 20 March this can also be applied for temporary workers or fixed term contracts. How this will function for leased personnel is not clear and Accurity is attempting to clarify this as soon as possible.

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. This is a major advantage of freelancing through such a management company.

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.