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Employing Ukrainian refugees: What you should know

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Employment contract, permits, protection against termination: What legal aspects should employers in Switzerland know so that they can hire Ukrainian refugees as quickly and easily as possible? Our blog answers the most important questions that arise when hiring refugees from Ukraine.

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    Céline Degen

    Céline Degen, legal expert at AXA-ARAG, is specialized in labor law and answers legal questions regarding the employment of Ukrainian refugees.

Do I have to get a work permit for employing refugees?

Yes. Although people with protection status S are now allowed to work without a waiting period, they still require a work permit. The permit for temporary gainful employment can be issued after the protection status S has been granted. It is issued by the cantons and must be submitted by the employer. 

Who should I contact if I want to hire refugees from Ukraine?

You can contact the cantonal labor market authority at the place of employment and submit an application for a work permit there. You must enclose the following with the application: a copy of the refugee’s passport, a copy of the foreigner’s ID (protection status S), and the employment contract signed by both the employer and the employee which meets the wage and work conditions customary for the location and industry. 

Can I temporarily employee Ukrainian refugees?

If you are a temp agency and want to hire Ukrainian refugees, you must also observe the wage and work conditions customary for the location and industry to assign refugees for temporary work. Moreover, you must also comply with the general legal provisions of the Recruitment Act as well as the provisions of the generally binding collective labor agreement for staff leasing. Otherwise, there are no restrictions. 

Are Ukrainian refugees currently given preferential treatment by the regional employment office (REO) so that they find work quickly?

Since people with protection status S are allowed to seek employment, they can also contact the REO even without drawing unemployment benefits for support in their job search. However, these people are not given preferential treatment. For the sake of equal opportunity, the same criteria apply as for recognized and temporarily admitted refugees. 

Does the REO offer courses and programs for Ukrainian refugees?

Since local employment offices are organized at a cantonal level, this varies by canton. For example, the Canton of Zurich and Canton Basel-Stadt offer courses for career starters and employment programs in various industries as well as German classes. 

Can the new employee start their job in a timely manner?

The goal is to review applications for work permits as quickly as possible. If the application has been submitted with all the necessary documentation, then it should only take a few days for processing.

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Am I allowed to ask potential employees about the planned duration of their stay in Switzerland?

Yes, although refugees probably don’t know the answer to that question themselves. Protection status S is a status that is oriented to those who plan to return to their home country. It is designed to offer vulnerable people temporary protection and assistance as well as create the conditions for a safe return. 

What do I need to bear in mind when it comes to the employment contract?

The employment contract must correspond to the wage and work conditions customary for the location and industry. In particular, Ukrainian refugees cannot be hired for a wage customary in their home country. Otherwise, the generally applicable provisions of Swiss law apply, namely the Swiss Code of Obligations, labor law, and any applicable collective labor agreements.  

Does a special protection against termination apply to Ukrainian employees?

No. The generally valid provisions of Swiss labor law regarding terminations apply.

Does the employment contract have to be drawn up in Ukrainian or Russian?

No. In general, an employment contract does not have to be documented in writing, it can also be concluded orally. However, to have proof and to avoid misunderstandings, it is always recommended to have the contract drawn up in writing. In this case, the submission of an employment contract signed by both the employee and the employer is a requirement for receiving a work permit.

However, the contract should be drawn up in a language that both parties understand. This could be German, or even English, for example. It is also possible to draw up the contract in two languages. However, in this case, the contract must also stipulate which language is decisive if something is unclear. 

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What does protection status S mean?

  • With protection status S, refugees from Ukraine receive an S permit, and the associated right to stay in Switzerland is restricted to one year, although this can also be extended.
  • Ukrainians with protection status S can travel within the Schengen area after 90 days, and take up employment after only one month.
  • This status also allows refugees to be joined by their families.

Are there any funding options I can request for employees from Ukraine?

In addition to social assistance from the canton, the cantons are free to decide whether they will provide additional integration services. Moreover, the State Secretariat for Migration is running the pilot program “Financial subsidies for labor market integration of refugees and temporarily admitted persons” from 2021 to 2023. In this program, employers who hire refugees with an extraordinary need for training at normal employment conditions are eligible for financial subsidies for a limited time. People with protection status S also have access to this pilot program. 

What if it doesn’t work out with the new employee? Because the language barrier is too high, for example.

In Swiss labor law, the principle of freedom of termination applies. No special reasons are required for a termination issued in compliance with legal notice periods.

Certain restrictions exist from a substantive point of view (for example, a termination cannot be wrongful or discriminatory) and with regard to time (for example, during illness or recovery from an accident). 

What points of contact are there for employers?

Further information on hiring refugees from Ukraine can be obtained from the cantonal employment and migration authorities or from the State Secretariat for Migration

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