Can an employer in Switzerland refuse to hire unvaccinated people?

The question of hiring employees based on their vaccination status presents somewhat of a legal conundrum in Switzerland. This is what you should know about this complex issue.

Questions about vaccination status are legal during a job interview in Switzerland. Photo by Maxime on Unsplash
Questions about vaccination status are legal during a job interview in Switzerland. Photo by Maxime on Unsplash

Swiss government has repeatedly stated that vaccination is not compulsory and nobody can be forced to be inoculated against their will.

This is partly because Swiss people value highly their civil liberties, which include the constitutional right to “self-determination” — the freedom to choose one’s own destiny, including in matters of health.

Swiss law reflects this, with legal experts arguing that compulsory vaccination could only be introduced in relatively narrow cases. 

READ MORE: Will Switzerland make the Covid vaccine compulsory? 

Can your boss ask you to prove your vaccination status in Switzerland? 

As it currently stands, this is a bit of a legal grey area – although it will in part depend on your employer and the type of work you do. 

According to official government advice, “your employer is only allowed to ask if you have been vaccinated if you are in specific situations where a vaccination may be required as part of your work”. 

There are, however, a lot of underlying factors to be considered. 

For instance, state-run or public establishments in Switzerland can’t decide to hire only those who have been vaccinated or fire those who haven’t, as this would be against the law.

However, private companies have a bit more leeway in this area and a number of employers in Switzerland now require Covid certificates from either all or some of their employees.

Among them are Novartis, Swiss Post, Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance, SWISS airline, and Geneva’s University Hospitals (HUG).

READ MORE: These Swiss companies now require Covid certificates from their employees

In fact, vaccinated people have a strong advantage in Switzerland’s labour market, according to a recent study carried out by Manpower Group.

It shows that nearly half of Swiss employers consider vaccination against Covid as a prerequisite for hiring.

Just under a quarter of responding companies – 21 percent – require proof of full vaccination for some employees, while 15 percent want both a vaccination and a Covid certificate.

If you work for a private company, employers “can make a distinction between vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees, especially for those who pose a security risk through frequent contact with other people”, Daniella Lützelschwab, a representative of an employers’ association said in an interview.

Switzerland: Can your employer ask if you are vaccinated?

But is it legal for an employer in Switzerland to refuse to hire people who are not vaccinated — that is, could it be a company policy to hire only those who are vaccinated?

The Local put this question to Dr. Nicole Vögeli Galli, a lecturer at the School of Management and Law at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).

Generally speaking, an employer can’t discriminate a job applicant based on gender, origin, religion, or sexual preference — or even asked questions related to these areas.

However, as Vögeli Galli pointed out, employers have ‘duty of care’ obligations, meaning that they must take measures to make the workplace safe for their employees. “It is the employer’s legal duty to protect the health of all employees, even against their will”, she said.

Also, “employers must protect their third-party contacts, such as customers, patients, students, etc”.

Whether the employer’s duty of care includes hiring only vaccinated candidates depends on the work environment, she said.

“In my opinion, this could, for example, be discussed in the health/school sector or workplaces with very confined spaces”.

Generally speaking, however, “it is lawful for an employer to refuse to hire people who are not vaccinated and to record this as a company policy,” Vögeli Galli noted.

These articles provide more information about vaccination obligation in the workplace:

UPDATED: Can you be fired in Switzerland if you refuse the Covid-19 vaccine?

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Reader question: When will Switzerland authorise second Covid booster shots?

Even as other countries have started to administer fourth doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and the infections are on the rise again, Swiss health authorities still haven’t rolled out second boosters. This is why, and what lies ahead.

Reader question: When will Switzerland authorise second Covid booster shots?

As The Local reported on Tuesday, coronavirus is circulating again in Switzerland and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

In fact, over a million people in Switzerland could catch the virus this summer.

 “More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

READ MORE: ‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) indicates that the upward trend is already underway. The number of new reported cases has been soaring in the past few weeks — from below 10,000 a week in mid-April and beginning of May, to 24,704 new cases in the past seven days.

These are officially registered contaminations, but as “most of infected people will not be tested, the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler pointed out.

Although nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are more contagious but less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

What is FOPH’s official stance on second boosters?

Health authorities are currently recommending them only for people in high-risk categories — that is, those with a very weak immune system.

“There is no need for the general public to receive an additional booster vaccination in the current situation. According to available data, people who are fully vaccinated or vaccinated and cured are still well protected against severe forms of COVID-19”, FOPH said on May 23rd.

There has been no change in strategy since then, despite the increasing infection rates.

However, authorities relented on one point: they now allow fourth doses to be administered to people whose Covid certificates have expired but who plan to travel to countries where up-to-date immunisations are required.

FOPH said these travellers can get “off-label” shots — meaning being vaccinated before the official authorisation to do so is issued — but these doses will not be free of charge.

“The price will be set by the cantons and the vaccination centres”, FOPH said, adding, however, that “second boosters for people with weakened immune systems will remain free”.

Why are Swiss health authorities dragging their feet in authorising second boosters?

As with the original vaccine rollout at the beginning of 2021, which took longer here than elsewhere, Swiss slowness may be due to the abundance of caution. For instance, drugs regulator Swissmedic “took longer than many countries to approve new vaccines”.

This time around, FOPH is taking its time to examine benefits of second boosters for general population (as opposed to at-risk groups).

Part of it may be the uncertainty prevailing over the efficacy of vaccines, which were conceived to combat the original early strains like Delta, not the variants, and sub-variants, that emerged later.

“The current vaccine does not provide clear protection against the Omicron”, according to Giuseppe Pantaleo, head of the immunology unit at Vaud university hospital (CHUV).

So when will Switzerland authorise second boosters?

Health officials said they will issue official recommendations “before the summer holidays”, which means shortly.

Two scenarios are currently  foreseen by FOPH: “It may be that an additional booster vaccination is recommended only for people over 65 and those suffering from certain chronic diseases, but it is also possible that it will be intended for the entire population”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?