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.

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