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Employment Law in Switzerland

Switzerland is a confederation of 26 cantons. Under the Federal Constitution, responsibility for legislating on most employment-related matters lies at federal (ie national) level. However, laws and other rules at cantonal level play a role in certain relevant areas, such as paid sick leave, public holidays, the setting of minimum pay and conditions, and maternity benefits.

The main item of federal legislation relevant to employment is the Code of Obligations (Obligationenrecht/Droit des obligations/Diritto delle obbligazioni). This is the part of the Civil Code (Zivilgesetzbuch/Code civil/Codice civile) that governs contract law, including contracts of employment. As well as employment contracts themselves, the Code of Obligations regulates matters such as dismissal, resignation, collective redundancy, notice periods, transfers of undertakings, annual leave, sick leave, aspects of pay and collective agreements.

The second-most important statute is the Federal Labour Law (Arbeitsgesetz/Loi sur le travail/Legge sul lavoro), which deals notably with working time issues, rest breaks/periods, public holidays, maternity leave and occupational health and safety. The Federal Labour Law as a whole does not cover certain employers, notably those in the public sector, public transport, seafaring, agriculture and fishing, plus private households and many family businesses. It also does not cover certain individuals, including senior managers, air crew, scientists, artists, commercial travellers, private school teachers, homeworkers and religious practitioners. However, the Law’s provisions on health and safety do cover the public sector, senior managers, scientists, artists and private school teachers.

Other important federal laws cover specific issues such as equality between women and men, temporary agency work, employee information and consultation, and the extension of collective agreements. The Federal Constitution is important in guaranteeing rights in areas such as equal pay, trade unions and strikes. Case law, especially that of the Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgericht/Tribunal federal/Tribunale federale), plays a significant part in interpreting employment-related legislation (lower courts have only a cantonal scope).

Collective agreements, mainly at industry level, set pay and conditions for around half of the workforce. Such agreements have in some cases been made legally binding on all employers in an industry, including non-signatories. The public authorities at federal or cantonal level can also issue a “standard employment contract” that governs certain pay and conditions for all employees in a specific sector. As a general rule, individual employment contracts cannot deviate from the provisions of applicable employment statutes, collective agreements or standard employment contracts, except to the advantage of the employee.

This article refers to employment law in the private sector only.

Temporary COVID-19 Cisis Measures (as at 26 May 2020)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Swiss federal Government has taken a number of temporary measures affecting employment law. The main instrument to prevent crisis-related job losses has been expanded and streamlined use of an existing state-subsidised short-time working scheme, while employees prevented from working for reasons such as quarantine or needing to look after children whose schools are closed have been entitled to public benefits. The Government has temporarily relaxed normal rules on maximum working hours and minimum rest periods in certain sectors, notably healthcare (see Working Time, Rest and Holidays). Employers are expected to observe special COVID-19 health and safety guidelines for the duration of the crisis. Most of the temporary measures are being phased out over the period up until 31 August 2020.

Employment Law in Switzerland: Quick Facts
  • During recruitment and selection, employers may request or obtain information about candidates only to the extent that the information concerns their suitability for the job or is necessary for the performance of the employment contract. Recruitment and Selection

  • The first month of any indefinite-term employment relationship is, unless otherwise agreed, a probationary period, during which either party can terminate the relationship with seven days’ notice. Recruitment and Selection

  • Nationals of EU and EFTA Member States can be employed relatively freely, while the employment of non-EU/EFTA nationals is largely restricted to managers, specialists and other qualified workers, and to jobs that cannot be filled locally. Recruitment and Selection

  • An employment contract is defined by statute as an agreement whereby an employee undertakes to work in the service of an employer and the employer undertakes to pay the employee a wage based on the amount of time worked or the tasks performed. Employment Contracts

  • Employers and employees have various statutory duties under the employment contract. Employment Contracts

  • The employer must provide written information on certain employment conditions if the employee has an indefinite-term contract or a fixed-term contract with a duration longer than one month. Employment Contracts

  • Unless agreed otherwise, employees must be paid monthly. The employer must provide the employee with a written pay statement. Pay and Benefits

  • While there is no statutory national minimum wage, there are various mechanisms that set binding minimum pay rates in certain industries, occupations and geographical areas. Minimum Wages

  • The maximum working week (including overtime) is 45 hours for employees in industrial enterprises and offices, technical staff and other white-collar employees, and sales staff in large-scale retail enterprises, and 50 hours for all other employees, though some flexibility is possible and additional hours can be worked in some cases. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Night work and Sunday work are generally forbidden; they may be authorised by the public authorities in certain circumstances but the employee’s consent is always required. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Employees must be granted minimum rest breaks and daily and weekly rest periods, and are entitled to four weeks of paid annual leave. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Working mothers are entitled to take up to 14 weeks’ maternity leave with benefits (set at 80% of normal pay) though there is little statutory provision for other parenthood-related leave. Parenthood and Work-life Balance

  • Discrimination in relation to employment is explicitly prohibited on grounds of sex, and case law has established that discrimination on grounds such as age, race, religion, disability and sexual orientation is unlawful. Women and men are entitled to equal pay for work of equal value. Equality and Discrimination

  • Sexual harassment constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. Equality and Discrimination

  • Employees have a right to join trade unions and (subject to certain conditions) to strike, and must not be dismissed on grounds of union membership or activities or of participating in a lawful strike. Around half of employees have their pay and conditions set by collective agreements. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • In enterprises with 50 or more employees, employees may choose to elect an employee representative body with information and consultation rights. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • Employers have a general duty to take all measures necessary to protect employees’ health and safety, and must comply with numerous detailed statutory requirements in this field.

  • The employer may in principle terminate an indefinite-term employment relationship at any time by giving the employee the required notice, though dismissal is prohibited at certain times (and therefore void) and is unlawful for certain reasons (potentially entitling the employee to compensation. The employer can also dismiss an employee without notice in certain circumstances. Various special rules apply to collective redundancy. Termination of Employment

  • Unless otherwise agreed, employers and employees must observe a statutory notice period of one to three months when terminating employment. Termination of Employment

  • Employees aged at least 50 and with at least 20 years’ service are generally entitled to receive a “long-service payment” from the employer when their employment ends. Termination of Employment

  • When there is a business transfer, employees’ employment contracts are automatically transferred to the new employer. Other Key Issues