How Should Swiss Employers Respond To The Coronavirus?

Author:Mr René Hirsiger (Blesi & Papa) and Roberta Papa (Blesi & Papa)
Profession:Ius Laboris

What can or should employers in Switzerland do to comply with their legal responsibilities in the light of the coronavirus outbreak?

The employer's duty of care: the current official rules

Pursuant to their statutory duty of care, employers are obliged to ensure their employees have a safe and healthy (work) environment. Employers should, therefore, stay informed about the coronavirus outbreak and the measures taken by the Swiss government.

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) regularly publishes information about the current situation in Switzerland and a number of guidelines and rules are available on its website (including in English). Currently, the following rules apply:

Wash your hand thoroughly. Cough and sneeze into a paper tissue or the crook of your arm. Dispose of used paper tissues in a sealed waste bin. Stay at home if you have a high temperature and a cough. Avoid shaking hands. Always call ahead before going to the doctor's or the emergency department. In addition, the FOPH has issued a Manual for operation preparation that can be found here (available in German, French and Italian). Section 3 lists internal measures the employers should adopt for the protection of its employees.

The Swiss Federal Council has categorised the current situation as 'special' under the Swiss Epidemics Act. As a first measure for such 'special' situation, the Swiss Federal Council has banned large-scale events with more than 1000 participants until 15 March 2020; the cantonal authorities decide on events with fewer than 1000 participants. Workplaces (regardless of the number of staff) are not affected by the ban of large-scale events.

Employers should carefully monitor and comply with the rules and advice issued by the FOPH and/or the Swiss Federal Council.

Employers' and employees' specific rights and duties

Together with the FOPH, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has issued a summary of FAQs answering the most relevant questions of employers and employees facing the corona crisis (available here in German, French and Italian).

The currently most frequent questions are set out below, with SECO's answers and our further assessment of the situation.

  1. Can an employer order its employees to work from home?

    If the employment contract provides for the possibility of an employee working from home, the employer may require the employee to work from home until further notice. However, even if the employment contract...

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