Are lunch breaks obligatory for employees in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Are lunch breaks obligatory for employees in Switzerland?
Eating lunch at your desk is not a Swiss thing. Photo by Nielsen Ramon on Unsplash

Switzerland’s labour laws lay down various rules meant to protect employees. But is a compulsory lunch break among them?


Anyone living in Switzerland knows that many offices, stores, and businesses in general, close between noon and 1:30 pm to allow their employees to eat lunch. (But, unlike is the case in some other countries, the Swiss adults don’t usually have a siesta afterwards — a short nap taken after the midday meal.)

Is this hour-and-a-half lunch break compulsory or just a habit?

Both, actually.

The law requires employers to schedule breaks for employees, depending on the number of working hours per day:

  • 15 minutes if you work five and a half hours a day
  • 30 minutes if you work more than seven hours a day
  • One hour if you work more than nine hours a day (in this case you may take more than one break).

And breaks are not considered working time, so they are not remunerated.

Given that a typical full-time employee in Switzerland works eight hours a day (or more, depending on the sector), it follows that they are entitled to a 30-minute lunch break.

However, most companies in Switzerland will give their workers at least an hour or even 90 minutes for lunch — this is, however, more of cultural thing than strict law.


Why is that?

It is difficult to know why this habit emerged, but in the past, it was based on school hours.

Public schools give their students an hour and a half to go home for lunch, and it used to be customary for the whole family — including the father — to gather at the table to have this main meal together. (It implied, of course, that mothers did not work outside the home and had all the time in the world to cook for the whole family each day).

This practice is still mostly intact, even though more women now work, and more people each lunch in school / company cafeterias or outside restaurants).


So is taking a lunch break obligatory?

The law doesn’t specifically say that you must go home or to a restaurant to eat, but on the other hand, it also says you are not allowed to skip lunch and other breaks “because this could lead to mistakes or accidents” at work.

"For this same reason, you may not skip your break in order to finish your day earlier, or start your day later and then skip your break."

How does this work in practice?

In most companies, work stops at exactly 12 pm, when everyone gets up and goes for lunch.

It is not illegal for you to bring your own lunch and eat at your desk, but it may be frowned upon.

Employers and employees alike believe in work – life balance and having a proper meal outside your office (either at home or elsewhere) is the accepted norm — though it probably seems odd to newly arrived foreigners.

One such person is Ellen, from the United States.

When she first started to work in a Swiss office, she did what she used to do back in the US — she brought her sandwich and ate at her desk while she worked.

Her co-workers were giving her sidelong glances, until Ellen’s boss finally told her to go home and have a proper meal.

She did.

READ ALSO: Why are Swiss wages so high?


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