Rights and obligations
If you’ve found a job in Switzerland, you’re probably asking yourself what your rights are as an employee. Below we have summarised some of the key rights and obligations set out in the Swiss Civil Code (CC), labour law (LTr in French/ArG in German) and the Gender Equality Act (GEA) as the legal minimum. In all cases, your individual employment contract or union contract may offer more generous benefits.
Probation or trial period
The first month of employment is usually a trial period during which either the employee or employee can terminate the contract with just seven days’ notice, but both fixed-term and indefinite contracts can stipulate a trial period of up to three months. During the trial period, your rights are limited in certain respects (for example, in relation to maternity).
Working hours and breaks
The standard working week in Switzerland is 40 hours, but the maximum allowed by law is either 45 or 50, depending on the sector. Overtime is permitted only in exceptional cases, and if you do work overtime you are entitled to either 25% extra pay for those hours or time off in lieu.
You are entitled to a break of at least 15 minutes in a working day of at least five and a half hours; 30 minutes in a working day of at least seven hours; or 60 minutes in a working day of more than nine hours. These breaks are not considered part of your paid working time unless you are not allowed to leave your workstation during the break – even in this case you must be allowed to eat. You don’t have to take you break all in one go, but you do have to take at least half an hour in the middle of the day in order to eat and return to work rested and refreshed.
The minimum amount of paid holiday stipulated by law is four weeks (five weeks if you are under 20). Under normal circumstances, paid holiday leave can’t be replaced by monetary payment, though there are some exceptions to this rule.
Since the purpose of holiday is to give you a chance to rest and recharge, you are not allowed to work either for yourself or for another employer. Your pay could be docked if you are found to have violated this rule.
Pregnancy and parenting
If you have an indefinite contract, you can’t be made redundant for any reason during your pregnancy or in the 16 weeks following the birth. Similarly, prospective employers are not allowed to ask about a candidate’s family plans during job interviews or to reject a candidate because of pregnancy or on the suspicion that she will soon be pregnant (though of course this is difficult to enforce since it is hard to prove the true reason for rejection).
During your pregnancy
Your employer has to make reasonable adjustments for you during your pregnancy, namely providing somewhere for you to lie down and rest during the day, limiting your working day to a maximum of nine hours, not asking you to work overtime and assigning you different tasks if your job usually involves physical or dangerous work or lots of time on your feet.
Pregnant women cannot be obliged to work, so you can take time off whenever you need to without being punished, though your employer does not have to pay you for this time unless you provide a medical certificate. In practice, most employers allow pregnant employees a reasonable amount of uncertified absence without docking their pay. They also have to allow you time to attend your essential medical appointments.
If you stop working before the birth on doctor’s orders, this is treated as sick leave and so does not come out of your maternity leave.
Once baby has arrived
The minimum maternity leave required by law is 14 weeks (16 in Geneva) from the date of the child’s birth, and it is paid at 80% of your salary. In all cantons except for Geneva, you are entitled to take an extra two weeks without pay to make it up to 16 weeks – your employer cannot refuse this additional two weeks. Many larger companies offer longer maternity leave or pay 100% of the salary. However long your leave entitlement is, you can return to work earlier if you wish (but no earlier than eight weeks after the birth). Be aware that if you do this, even just for one day, you will lose your remaining entitlement.
Maternity leave also applies in the event of stillbirth, as long as the pregnancy lasted at least 23 weeks.
Following a recent referendum, Swiss law now stipulates a minimum paternity leave of two weeks.
After you return to work, if you are breastfeeding, your employer must allow you a certain amount of time to feed your baby or express milk every day until your child’s first birthday (30 mins a day if you work four hours or less; one hour per day if you work between four and seven hours, and 1hr30 if you work an eight-hour day). It is up to you whether you use this time to pump or to feed your baby – if the former, your employer must provide you with a suitable, private place to pump, and if the latter, they should allow you to leave the premises to feed your baby or to have your baby brought to you. This time is not considered a break, so your employer cannot dock your pay and cannot deny you your usual breaks or reduce your holiday allowance to compensate.
If you have children under the age of 15, you are allowed to ask for lunch breaks of an hour and a half, and you cannot be forced to work overtime. If your child is unwell, you can take up to three days of sick leave to arrange childcare.