This article is the third in a series which will provide an introduction to employment law in Switzerland and will cover the basic laws applicable to prohibitions against discrimination and harassment and the remedies available to employees who prevail in actions against their employers for violations of these laws. This article will also provide a brief overview of Swiss maternity leave laws.
Discrimination and Harassment
Pursuant to Swiss employment law, employers are generally prohibited from discriminating against employees based upon an employee's "personality trait" which has been interpreted to include the employee's age, religion, race, disability and political affiliation. International agreements between the European Union and Switzerland also expressly prohibit discrimination by a Swiss employer against an employee based upon an employee's nationality and require that the employee be treated the same with respect to working conditions and compensation as Swiss nationals.
There is broader and specific statutory protection provided by the Swiss Gender Equality Act which strictly prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination based upon an employee's gender in both the private and public sector. Employers are not permitted to treat employees less favorably based upon the employee's marital status, pregnancy or familial status with respect to all conditions of employment including hiring, compensation, working conditions, promotions, demotions, benefits and termination of employment. The law also expressly requires equal pay for equal work and equal professional development opportunities regardless of gender. The Swiss Gender Equality Act and the Federal Act on Equal Treatment of Women and Men also expressly prohibit sexual harassment of employees. Sexual harassment is defined to include threats, the promising of job-related advantages or coercive acts to obtain favors of a sexual nature. Swiss employers by law are required to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.
Remedies Available to Employees for Discrimination and Harassment
An employee can commence a legal action in a Swiss court of proper jurisdiction against an employer alleging discrimination or harassment based upon both statutory law and the employee's employment contract and seek an order prohibiting further discrimination, compensatory and emotional...