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What can my Swiss employer still demand now Covid rules have been scrapped?

On February 17th, Switzerland woke up to the nearly-forgotten reality without Covid certificates and (almost) no masks. This is what your boss can and cannot require you to do now.

What can my Swiss employer still demand now Covid rules have been scrapped?
Some companies may still require their employees to wear masks. Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

The Federal Council has lifted a large part of the health measures, including the Covid certificate requirement. The mask mandate is also scrapped, except for public transport and health establishments.

But be careful in interpreting these decisions: just because they are no longer compulsory doesn’t mean private entities, including private employers, are legally bound to enact them.

Switzerland: Can your employer ask if you are vaccinated?

What it does mean is that the company you work for can decide, out of concern for the health and safety of employees and customers, to maintain one or more measures on their premises.

That’s because employers in Switzerland have a legal obligation to make the workplace safe for their employees.

A ‘safe workplace’ lends itself to a broad interpretation, ranging from ensuring that potentially hazardous equipment is not defective, to requiring employees to wear a mask to protect their colleagues.

What about the Covid certificate?

Here things are not as clear-cut.

The employer has, in principle, the right to require it, but only in certain circumstances, according to Thomas Geiser, professor of labour law at the University of St. Gallen.

This could be the case if you work with people at risk — either other employees or customers — so basically the same circumstances under which your boss might order you to wear a mask.  

Q&A: Everything you need to know about Switzerland relaxing Covid measures

This leads to another question: if an employee refuses to submit the Covid certificate, will they be able to work from home instead?

Legally, “the employer can’t require that any member of the staff works from home”, Geiser told Blick newspaper in an interview.

However, a company can transfer unvaccinated employees to another location, where they are not in contact with other workers or customers. If relocation is not possible, the employer “must give an employee a deadline within which they should get vaccinated”, according to Daniella Lützelschwab, a representative of an employers’ association.

If he or she still refuses, the company can dismiss them, on the grounds that they don’t support the employer in implementing health protection measures in the workplace.

Can vaccination be part of the employment contract?

Immunisation has never been compulsory in Switzerland, even if there have been sporadic discussions about the legal feasibility of a vaccine mandate. However, they never went far and there is very little likelihood of the issue being revived now.

Nevertheless, a private company can require proof of Covid vaccination from its future employees as part of the aforementioned obligation to provide a safe workplace.

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

What about testing?

According to the Federal Council, “the general recommendation for repetitive testing in companies will no longer apply and its funding will end”.

But if an employee presents symptoms that are consistent with a Covid infection, then the employer has not only the right, but also the obligation, to require testing, which will remain free for symptomatic people.

Can an employer in Switzerland refuse to hire unvaccinated people?

A company can also set up screening in its facility as part if its duty to provide a safe working environment.

It cannot, however, order asymptomatic employees to get a test that they will have to pay for themselves.

Is there anything else an employer is not allowed to do?

The only thing your boss cannot do (which is unrelated to the pandemic but a general rule) is discriminate against an employee based on gender, origin, religion, or sexual preference — or even ask questions related to these areas.

These links provide more information about the employer-employee rights and obligations:

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

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Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

The Swiss government will not make second Covid boosters available until autumn, saying those who are currently fully vaccinated face a low risk of contracting the virus.

Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) announced on Tuesday that second Covid booster shots for general population will be available in the fall, “when the risk for individuals and the burden on the healthcare system will be greatest”.

While Switzerland had a widespread booster shot campaign against Covid, the government has been reluctant to approve second boosters other than for those in vulnerable categories. 

Right now, those with a weakened immune system and people over the age of 80 are the only ones eligible. 

People not in those risk groups who want a second booster will need to pay out of pocket for the jab. 

This may be people who feel they are in a risk group but are not included in the government’s list, or those who need a booster for travelling abroad. 

People who are travelling to countries where proof of up-to-date immunisation is required but whose Covid certificates are no longer valid, can receive the fourth dose but upon request have to pay for the shot.

Previously, all Covid boosters have been free for Swiss citizens and residents, with the government electing to cover the costs. 

How much will a Covid booster for travel cost? 

While the federal government previously covered the costs of the vaccines, it is now up to individual vaccination centres to set a price for a second booster. 

A spokesperson from the FOPH told The Local on Wednesday that the cost tends to be around CHF60 across much of the country. 

Please keep in mind that this cost only relates to second booster shots for those not in vulnerable categories. For those wanting their first booster – or indeed their first or second shot of the vaccine – the government will continue to cover the costs.