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Can an employer in Switzerland ask about an employee’s ethnic background?

Can an employer in Switzerland ask about an employee's ethnic background?
UBS is asking uncomfortable questions. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Switzerland’s UBS Bank recently asked its employees online to divulge their ethnicity. But is such a question legal?

The respondents have the choice among four categories: Asian, Black, Latin American, and White. Another option is “two or more ethnic groups” and “other ethnic group”. The last choice is “no answer”.

Answering this questionnaire remains optional, however. To illustrate the document, the bank placed a photo with eight espresso cups in colours ranging from black to white to brown.

“This approach created debates among employees”, with some expressing annoyance, according to a report in Swiss media.

Legally speaking, Swiss employment law prohibits discrimination against employees based on their age, religion, race, disability, and political affiliation.

However, the law does not expressly forbid such questions from being asked.

UBS’s purpose in sending the questionnaire to its employees was “to further promote issues of diversity, equality and inclusion”, according to the bank’s spokesperson.

“UBS wants to have a better overview of the ethnic makeup of its staff, so that it can identify and address any challenges related to the notion of ethnicity.”

Daniela Frau, head of diversity issues at the University of Zurich, noted that such a survey will benefit employees.

However, human resources expert, Ann Forster, said UBS employees were taken aback by the questionnaire, because “we are not used to such surveys in Switzerland”.

They are more common in other countries. For instance, in the US, all businesses with more than 100 employees are required by law to conduct such data collection to show how women and minorities are represented in private companies and administration, as well as in sectors and regions.

In Switzerland, such approach is rare, but things could change.

“If a company is committed to diversity and wants to monitor whether there are issues of discrimination or inequality, then such data collection is necessary”,  Frau noted.

Are there any other questions that a Swiss company is not allowed to ask a prospective or current employee?

In addition to the questions of personal nature mentioned above, the ones about sexual orientation, marital status, family situation, or plans for pregnancy are strictly forbidden.

As is the question about the employee’s Covid vaccination status or plans.

READ MORE: Switzerland: Can your employer ask if you are vaccinated?


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