Employee rights in Switzerland during the coronavirus: What you need to know

One of the major worries for employees across Switzerland during the coronavirus outbreak has been workplace rights.

Geneva-based lawyer Renuka Cavadini from Page & Partners breaks down your rights at work during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Some commonly asked questions include – whether employees can continue to work from home as lockdown ends, can they be forced to take holidays during confinement, what if they get fired?

Here are some FAQs which could be useful.

Returning to work

If I am at risk because of my health conditions, can my employer oblige me to return to work?

A person is considered vulnerable if he or she is over 65 years of age or if he or she already suffers from a disease such as cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. 

If you are a “vulnerable person” and if your type of work allows it, you are legally entitled to work from home. If work at distance is impossible, then your employer must comply with legal health measures at work. If not, you are entitled to stay at home and receive your salary. 

If I live with a person who is at risk (my spouse, an elderly parent, a cancer or asthmatic person), can I be obliged to return to work?

The Directives of the Federal government unfortunately do not cover this situation specifically. In our view, you should be treated like a vulnerable person. 

Practically, the best solution is to have a healthy discussion with your Employer.

Which health measures is my employer legally obliged to implement in my work space?

The Employer is obliged to implement the health measures recommended by SECO in order to protect the health of his/her Employee.

The Employee is obliged to comply with these measures, otherwise the Employee can insist on working from home. 

The health measures include:

  1. The distance between two people at the workplace must be at least 2 metres. 

  2. If this is not possible, for example in open spaces, it may be necessary to take other measures, such as the installation of plexiglass or other separators between two workstations.

  3. Regular disinfection of workstations

  4. Providing disinfectant gel on desks and in conference rooms

  5. Providing sufficient soap for hand washing and disposable towels for wiping.

UPDATE: What you need to know about the coronavirus crisis

Can my Employer oblige the Employees to have their temperature checked before they enter the work space?

Temperature measurement is permitted if the conditions of the Swiss Federal Data Protection Act are complied with.

Can my employer legally oblige employees to provide a health certificate confirming that they do not have the Covid-19 virus?

The Employer cannot require you to fill out a detailed medical form and give it to people who are not medical professionals (e.g. HR). 

How easy is it to work from home during the coronavirus lockdown? Photo: Pexels

Holidays during confinement

Can my Employer unilaterally decide that the days of confinement will be treated as vacation?

The Employee may request to take vacation time during the confinement period (16th March till 11th May 2020), however, the vacation cannot be imposed on the Employee at short notice.

From a practical point of view, many employees might have accepted the vacation imposed on them – to avoid losing their jobs during this economically uncertain time.

READ: How Switzerland is assisting parents hit by the coronavirus crisis

Can my Employer postpone my vacation dates because of the Covid-19?

Due to the urgent and unforeseen needs of the company, the Employer may request the Employee to postpone his or her vacation.

The cancellation costs, if any, would need to be covered by the Employer.

Can my Employer restrict me from travelling to certain destinations during my vacation?

The Employer may not impose restrictions on the employee with respect to the intended destination.

However, bear in mind that in the event of border and/or airspace closures, if you are prevented from returning to work on your expected date, your Employer may be legally entitled to suspend the payment of your salary.

People in traditional Bavarian dress in front of Germany's Neuschwanstein castle. Photo: KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND / DPA / AFP

Salary entitlements

Am I entitled to be my full salary if I have been working full time from home?

If you continue to work normally despite the pandemic, you are entitled to your full salary. 

In the event of a partial or total reduction in work due to COVID-19, your company can apply for RHT (reduced working hours) benefits on your behalf.

In this case, you will be entitled to 80 percent of your salary for the reduced hours of work from your Employer.

However, please note that the social security deductions will be calculated on the 100 percent salary and not on the salary actually received.

Am I entitled to my salary if I have Covid-19?

Yes of course, because you are on sick leave and you will be entitled to 80 percent of your salary.

Termination 

Can I be terminated during the Covid-19 confinement period?

If you have been on sick leave, the Employer cannot terminate your contract during the protection period which is fixed by the “Echelle Bernoise” – a scale which fixes the protection period according to the years of employment. 

However, your contract can be terminated after the end of this protection period.

If you are not ill and working from home, then you can be terminated with the regular notice period. However, you may need to verify whether the termination is abusive under Swiss law. 

This article was written by Renuka Cavadini, an attorney with Page & Partners in Geneva.


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