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An essential guide to being unemployed in Switzerland

Lost your job in Switzerland? Here's what you need to know about navigating the country's "tough but fair" unemployment system.

An essential guide to being unemployed in Switzerland
Looking for work is considered a full-time job by the Swiss authorities. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Losing your job is stressful at any time, but if it happens when you are away from home, it can be even tougher. 

Fortunately, though, Switzerland’s unemployment system is generous and you won’t be thrown out onto the street.

Generally speaking, if you are a foreigner but have a Swiss work/residence permit and you have been making compulsory unemployment insurance payments for at least 12 months over the last two years, you will be entitled to receive unemployment benefits.

Read also: What you need to know about Swiss work permits

In addition, you could also receive benefits if you have had a serious reduction (at least two days a week) in your working hours.

You are also entitled to those benefits if you resign from your job, although there will almost always be a waiting period before you can receive any unemployment money.

However, self-employed people cannot pay into the unemployment insurance system. They are covered by different arrangements.

Benefits totalling 70–80 percent of previous salary

Generally speaking, you will receive 70 percent of your salary for the last six months you worked – or 80 percent if you have dependants under the age of 25. This will be capped at CHF196 per day. 

This cover will last for up to a maximum of 24 months, depending on how long you have been paying into the system and other factors including your age.

Your benefits are tallied in days: if, for example, you have been paying into the system for 12 months, you will generally get 260 days unemployment cover. For 18 months, the standard cover is 400 days.

It’s important to note you will only receive benefits if you earned at least 500 Swiss francs a month while you were working. Benefits are also capped at 10,500 Swiss francs (around €9,400) a month.

Have you been unemployed in Switzerland? Share your experiences with us here.

As an additional benefit, you will also be entitled to holiday leave while you are unemployed (five days for every 60 days of benefits). During these holiday periods, you don’t have to provide proof you are looking for work. This leave must be taken in taken in a block and you must inform the authorities 14 days in advance.

Under the Swiss unemployment system, women are also entitled to 14 weeks of maternity leave. After a referendum in 2020, men are entitled to two weeks of paternity leave

You will also receive benefits if you are ill while out of work, although the maximum amount is 44 days in total (with only 30 days of those in a row).

If you’re unemployed in Switzerland, you might not have that much time on the couch as you’d like. Photo by Inside Weather on Unsplash

No special treatment

The Swiss unemployment system is best described as fair but tough. The emphasis is on bridging the gap between jobs and on getting people off benefits as soon as possible – even if that means finding people jobs that they might not might not be their ideal first choice.

Check out The Local’s Swiss jobs listings here

If you do find yourself on unemployment benefits in Switzerland, you will have to complete a lot of detailed paperwork. This must be fully correct and provided on time or there could be financial penalties. There’s more on that below.

And ignorance of the rules is definitely no excuse with the unemployment authorities. Do not expect any kind of special treatment.

You will be kept busy

You should also be aware that you will not be allowed to coast along while receiving Swiss jobless benefits. Looking for work is considered a full-time business.

As one Local reader said: “You don’t have time to be lazy”.

In addition to your job search activities, your unemployment adviser may recommend courses ranging from language or IT classes to sessions on job hunting. Attendance at these courses is compulsory, even if you feel doing so is not in your best interests or a waste of time. Again, failure to participate is likely to lead to financial penalties.

Finding work is your responsibility

There is a relatively common misconception that Swiss government employment advisers are there to find you a job. This is not exactly the case. Their role is to assist in you in your own job search by providing feedback on your CV or by helping you identify jobs that may be appropriate for you. They are also there to guide you through all the relevant processes and paperwork.

EXPLAINED: How to write the perfect Swiss CV

However, they are not job agents who will place you in a position. Swiss culture in general places an extremely high value on personal responsibility and in the end, you are considered responsible for your own job search. You must be proactive.

KNOW YOUR OBLIGATIONS

Here are some more tips to help you hit the ground running when you find yourself out of work in Switzerland.

Start applying for jobs as soon as you are given notice

It is important to realise that you have to start looking for work as soon as you are given notice. So even if you have a three-month notice period to serve out in your current position, you should begin looking for another job immediately.

During you first consultation with the unemployment office, you will have to be able to provide verifiable evidence that you have already applied for around eight jobs. Keep as much information as possible about any jobs you apply for including the contact details of any person you may have corresponded with.

If you don’t provide evidence of this job search, you will have to wait before you start receiving benefits.

Register as unemployed as soon as possible

Don’t wait to finish out your notice period before you register as unemployed. This can be done while you are still working and your employment consultant can already begin assisting you with your job search.

Among the benefits is access to jobs only advertised to Swiss-based workers.

To find out where to register as unemployed, contact authorities in the commune where you live. You will either have to register with the commune or directly with the nearest regional employment centre (RAV/ORP/URC).

You must register in person and by your first day of unemployment at the latest. If not, there will be a waiting period before you are paid.

Have all your paperwork ready

If you register with your commune, you will need to take your national insurance (AHV/AVS) card and official identification.

If you are required to register directly with the RAV/ORP/URC, you also need to take your work permit as well as the documentation related to your job search including your CV, references, diplomas, degrees or certificates.

In addition, you will need to take along a copy of your most recent employment contract, your resignation or termination letter and any medical paperwork if applicable.

After you have registered, you will receive confirmation by mail that you are in the system.

Complete the paperwork

Once you are on the books, you will receive two forms a month to fill in – one from your unemployment insurer asking about any updates to your employment status and another where you fill in the details of your job search. These forms will generally arrive on around the 20th of the month.

A sample monthly job seeker form.

The form for the AHV/AVS authority must be returned as soon as possible.

For the RAV form, this must be submitted by the fifth day of the following month, or the first business day after the fifth of the month. If not, it will not be accepted. Late submission can also result in payment being docked.

You are generally expected to be able to show that you have applied for 10–12 jobs a month but the exact figure will be determined by your RAV/ORP/URC advisor.

You will have regular meeting with your unemployment adviser which you must attend unless you have a valid excuse such as illness.

Be contactable

While you are registered with the RAV/ORP/URC, you must be reachable within 24 hours by email, phone or the post.

You also have to make sure that you inform the RAV/ORP/URC as soon as there any changes in your circumstances which could affect your payments. This could range from being ill and unable to work, to earning interim wages or changing your address.

Be prepared to take on any ‘reasonable’ job

While you are receiving unemployment benefits, you must be ready to start working the following day.

You must also accept any reasonable job offer, even if the job does not exactly line up with your previous experience and the hours you are being offered are not those you would like to work. You may also be in for a pay cut.

Under Swiss law, a “reasonable” job offer relates to any position where the wages are in line with regional, job and industry standards, standard employment conditions are met, the commute is not more than four hours and the job takes reasonable account of the skills and employment background of the person looking for work.

However, regional unemployment centres have a certain amount of elbow room here and exceptions can be made depending on personal circumstances of job seekers. A single mother would not, for example, be forced to take on irregular shift work or make long commutes.

You are encouraged to take on temporary work while unemployed. If you do so, you are likely to take home slightly more money and you will also use up your full quota of benefit days more slowly. 

However, you will still be registered as unemployed and must continue your job search.

Be aware of the penalties

You could have your benefits suspended if you refuse a reasonable job offer, don’t try hard enough to find work, fail to attend a RAV/ORP/URC interview without a valid excuse, fail to submit job search documents, or submit them late, provide false or incomplete information, or fail to attend or complete a course or job program.

These penalties for failure to comply can add up quickly. For example, a five-day penalty for someone who was earning 5,000 francs a month before they went on benefits would be in the region of 900 francs.

In the case of repeat offences, you could even be stripped of your benefits altogether.

Staying on in Switzerland

European Union and EFTA nationals can generally stay on in Switzerland if their residence permit expires while they are unemployed, but they will need to be able to demonstrate they have enough money to fund themselves and that they have health insurance.

Legally they are entitled to stay for three months, but this period can be extended. 

Usually permits will be renewed for the standard five-year timeframe. However, in the case of the long-term unemployed – over 12 months – permits will generally only be renewed for a single year.

For other foreign nationals, you will generally be given six months to find work in Switzerland.

Anyone who is required to leave Switzerland due to their work permit expiring as a result of losing their job will also need to take their family with them. Family residency permits connected to someone’s work will expire when the work permit is no longer valid. 

Read also: Swiss bureaucracy- seven essential documents you need to know about

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland

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