COVID-19 and the employer's options under Swiss labour law - Tax and Legal blog

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The current situation with the rapidly spreading virus Sars-CoV-19 brings uncertainty for the economy and, thus, for employees and employers. What possibilities does Swiss labour law offer employers to react to this situation? We are providing answers to this question.

On 13 March 2020, the Federal Council declared the extraordinary situation for Switzerland. This week, it tightened the initial measures and announced further restrictive measures. The measures now in force include in particular the prohibition of public and private events, the closure of publicly accessible facilities (with certain exceptions), restrictions on educational establishments, the protection of particularly vulnerable workers and restrictions on travel.

a) Employers affected by the closure

The businesses affected by closures include all leisure and entertainment businesses (e.g. cinemas, museums, theatres, fitness studios), restaurants, bars and clubs, retail businesses (unless they serve daily needs), markets and service businesses offering personal services with physical contact (e.g. massage, hairdressers, cosmetics). As a result, these establishments may no longer open up until at least 19 April 2020. As employees in these industries cannot work from home, other legal options need to be considered. Generally, the employer is still legally required to pay the employee’s salary. Thus, we recommend, in a first instance, to decrease existing overtime balances or vacation days. Should this not be possible, it may need to be considered applying for short-time working compensation (under the unemployment insurance scheme). However, the payment of such compensation requires the consent of the employee or has to be foreseen in an applicable collective bargaining agreement. Otherwise, the employee is entitled to the normal salary.

b) Employers not affected by the closure

For all enterprises and industries not affected by the mandatory closure, they may run their daily business with certain limitations. In particular, where employees are considered as particularly vulnerable workers (i.e. employees beyond the age of 65 and/or with pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, cancer), the employer has to provide them with the opportunity to work from home. Should the work of the employee not allow for home office, they have to stay at home while receiving their normal salary pay. For all other employees, all relevant measures must be taken to protect the employees’ health, such as working remotely, travel restrictions, quarantine for employee returning from risk countries, disinfecting the work place, possibility to keep distance to other employees, in particular in the production line.
From an employer’s perspective, it could be considered to ask employees to reduce existing overtime or high vacation balances. In the mid- to long-term where the workload decreases due to reduced orders, further options include asking employees to make use of flexible hours or to take paid holidays - or with their consent - unpaid holidays. Other options are applying for short-time working compensation, or asking employees for consenting to a reduced salary (provided that the necessary conditions and procedures are fulfilled).

c) Employers with cross-border commuters

As outlined, measures in place include restrictions to enter Switzerland from a risk area or a risk country. Currently, France, Germany, Italy and Austria are considered risk countries. The list of risk countries/areas may change over the course of the next days and weeks.
Cross-border commuters, i.e. employees holding a respective cross-border permit, are still allowed to pass the Swiss border from these countries. Nevertheless, we would recommend that cross-border commuters work remotely whenever possible. Should the situation worsen, it may well be that their country of residence may establish more severe restrictions or limit travel to certain professional categories. Thus, the further developments have to be observed.

What does this mean:

For Swiss companies, this means to adapt to the circumstances and to remain flexible. It is necessary to evaluate the continuation of the economic business with a reduction of workforce and to evaluate the best solution from an employment law perspective for each enterprise to minimize as much as possible the negative consequences of the COVID-19. The above-mentioned measures may also be combined.

Deloitte's view:

A good collaboration and clear and transparent communication between employer and employees will help to deal with the situation.
It is crucial to identify legal constraints from a business perspective when measures relating to your employees are envisaged (ensure pragmatism throughout business planning) and to be mindful of the impact of any measures your enterprise will take on employees.

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If you would like to discuss more on this topic, please do reach out to our key contacts below.

Key contacts

Jürg Birri blog- 1

Jürg Birri - Partner, Head of Legal

Jürg is leading the legal practice at Deloitte in Switzerland. He joined the firm as a Partner in 2019. Jürg is an Attorney-at-Law and a Federal Tax Expert and advises clients in the financial services industry on a wide range of tax and regulatory issues. He is in charge of a larger team of lawyers and experts who specialize notably in business, corporate, M&A, employment, as well as private client and financial market law.


Emanuelle Brulhart_blog

Emanuelle Brulhart – Senior Manager, Deloitte Legal

Emanuelle is a Swiss qualified attorney-at-law with over 15 years of professional experience, of which more than 13 years within the legal practice at Deloitte in Switzerland. She currently leads the employment law practice within Deloitte Legal in Western Switzerland. She advises and supports both international groups and Swiss based companies on employment related topics; as well as social security, national and international, and immigration law matters. She provides legal advice on complex restructuring projects, secondments, hiring of services, transfers and mass dismissal.


Bassanello_Christine-4725_original blog

Christine Bassanello – Senior Manager, Deloitte Legal

Christine is a Swiss qualified attorney-at-law with over 10 years of professional experience. She recently joined the legal practice of Deloitte Switzerland and is leading the employment law practice within Deloitte Legal in Eastern Switzerland. She is specialised in advising Swiss and international clients in all public or private employment law aspects and has an in-depth knowledge in immigration law.



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