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Coronavirus in Switzerland: Rights and obligations of employees

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Coronavirus still has Switzerland firmly in its grip and is presenting new challenges for our working and family lives. Working from home, childcare, continued payment of salaries: what are employers obliged to do, and what rights do employees have?

The experts from AXA-ARAG have the answers to the most important questions for employees in these difficult and turbulent times. 

Does my employer have a duty of care?

Yes. Swiss employers are obliged to take appropriate measures to protect their  employees in order to prevent infection from or spread of coronavirus.

Measures can include, for example, providing hand sanitizers or face masks at work. Companies can also ask employees who have come back from China or another region with coronavirus cases to work from home for 14 days and to monitor whether they have any symptoms of the illness during this period.

I am ill with coronavirus and can no longer work. Will I continue to be paid?

Yes. There is normally an obligation to continue paying salaries for coronavirus too.  

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I’m worried about getting infected and would rather stay at home. Am I allowed to do that? 

Unless the authorities have issued any instructions to this effect, you as an employee are not entitled  to stay home. If you do, you risk termination without notice.

However, an exception can be made if you have objective reasons for worrying that you may catch coronavirus at work. In this case, we recommend that you inform your employer of the reasons for your refusal to work and ask for appropriate protective measures. 

Am I allowed to work from home to protect myself?

If it is operationally possible for you to work from home, you can ask your employer if you may do so and discuss the options.

I’m worried that I’m infectious. Am I allowed to stay home? 

Yes. In this instance, you must phone your doctor and get examined. You must then submit a medical certificate to your employer. This is the same procedure as for any other illness.

Can the company insist that I work from home?

If there is a corresponding clause in your  employment contract, the company can ask you to work from home. This may also be justified in order to protect you as an employee from the risk of catching coronavirus.

If I become infected at work, is my employer liable?

Yes possibly. Your employer is obliged to take all necessary measures to prevent you becoming infected at work. Cases must be checked individually to determine whether the employer has adequately fulfilled their duty of care. This check may provide grounds for liability. 

A work colleague is ill with coronavirus and my place of work is under quarantine. What does this mean for me?

You have to still offer to work, e.g. by working from home or at another of the company’s premises. Flexwork may mitigate the situation in this instance. If you can only carry out your work at the quarantined work location,   your employer must continue to pay your salary. This is because in this instance, he or she bears operating risk even in the absence of fault (see Art. 324 Swiss Code of Obligations (SCO)).

My son is ill with flu and has to stay in bed for two weeks. He is very weak and needs to be looked after. Am I allowed to stay home to look after my son or do I have to go to work? Will I still be paid?

Your employer is obliged to give you up to three days per illness upon presentation of a medical certificate. However if this is necessary for medical reasons, you can also be off work for longer: This is classified as inability to work through no fault of your own (see also Art. 324a SCO) and includes continuation of salary payments for a specific period. However, as parents you must organize childcare to prevent further absences. 

My child has to stay at home by order of the authorities.   Do I have to take vacation in this instance? 

No.  This is a case of inability to work through no fault of your own (see statutory duty to look after your children under Art. 276 Swiss Civil Code (SCC)). There is an obligation to continue salary payments for a specific period under Art. 324a SCO. In this instance too however, parents must make every effort to prevent further absences (see above).

Will there be a deduction from my salary if my employer sends me home as a precautionary measure?

No, your employer must continue to pay your salary.

What if the company where I work has to be closed by order of the authorities?

There is only an obligation to continue salary payments  if the reason for the closure lies with  your employer. For instance, if there is a lack of key protective measures.

Am I entitled to receive my salary if I can’t get back home from my vacation because of coronavirus?

In this instance, your employer is not obliged to continue paying salaries for additional absences.

Can I as an employee refuse to go on a business trip?

You may only refuse to go on a business trip if a travel restriction has been imposed by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) on the region where the business meeting is supposed to take place. If this is not the case, there is insufficient reason to refuse to travel to this region. 

Is my employer allowed to deploy me at another place of work? At another branch, for instance?

The contractually agreed place of work cannot simply be relocated based on an instruction from the employer. Nonetheless, you must expect to work in another branch or at another location for a specific period in an emergency. However, your employer must take your personal situation and circumstances into account. 

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