Coronavirus: what are my rights?

Due to the current situation and the spread of the new coronavirus, more and more legal questions are arising for employees and working families: What applies if my child is sick? Can my employer force me into isolation (quarantine)? Do I still earn my full salary? Here you will find the answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Questions and answers are being continually updated (in line with the measures and decisions currently being taken by the Authorities)

Who is at risk? What should I do if I suspect I have coronavirus?

  • Do I belong to the risk group?

    If you are 65 or older, then yes. Likewise, if you have pre-existing conditions such as chronic lung and respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. You also belong to the risk group if you are undergoing treatment that weakens the immune system. Pregnant women are also considered to be at especially high risk. (Art. 10b, Covid-19 Regulation 2)

    Federal Office of Public Health FOPH: New coronavirus: People at especially high risk

  • I think I am infected. What should I do?

    Call your physician and he / she will make an initial diagnosis and tell you what to do. You are not obliged to disclose medical diagnoses to your employer – however, if you are infected with coronavirus, we recommend you to inform your boss so he / she can take the necessary protective measures.

  • My General Practitioner is too busy, and I have still not obtained a certificate after 4 days – what should I do now?

    Inform your boss - preferably in writing – that because of the special situation, you have unfortunately not yet obtained a medical certificate, but that you will provide one as soon as possible. Explain to your employer that the authorities recommend that, in the exceptional crisis situation, he should only request a doctor's certificate from the 5th day of absence from work - this is in order to prevent overloading the healthcare system.

  • Can my employer dismiss me because I belong to the risk group?

    Unfortunately, he can, in fact, give you notice. However, this dismissal is abusive. He will owe you compensation of up to 6 months' wages. You must protest against this in writing to your employer within the notice period.

  • I am leaving my job for fear of infection. What are the risks?

    If you are not instructed to do so by the authorities, you risk being accused of an unjustified refusal to work - you will then lose your entitlement to payment of your wages. What is more, your employer can dismiss you without notice after a warning, and even claim compensation of up to 25 percent of your monthly wages.

    However, if your fears are justified (for example, because your employer does not comply with the official protective measures), you have the right to refuse to work. Your employer must then continue to pay you your wages. Before taking this step, though, point out to your boss that there is an irregularity and that he should rectify it quickly. It is best to do this in writing or in the presence of colleagues. If your boss fails to respond, you can then refuse to work. However, we recommend that you get together with work colleagues and / or involve your union, because if a dispute arises, your grievance would still have to be proven. You can also call in the Cantonal Labour Inspectorate, which may sanction your employer.

    Addresses of the Cantonal Labour Inspectorates (in German).

  • I have been placed in quarantine because I have been in contact with an infected person. What compensation am I entitled to?

    Persons who at the time of  interruption to work were employed or self-employed and who have compulsory Old-age and survivors' insurance (AHV) are entitled to compensation. Age does not matter. The quarantine must be ordered by a doctor or by the authorities. If in doubt call your doctor.

    You are entitled to 80% of your salary for 7 days. If you have a negative test result you can reduce the 10 day quarantine to 7 days. You must make the claim for loss of earnings yourself to your compensation fund

    Application for loss of earnings compensation and further information

    Speak initially with your employer. Unia takes the view that you are owed your full salary during quarantine, since compliance with the quarantine is a legal obligation  (Art. 324a  Code of Obligations - OR).

    This legal assessment is still being disputed and had  recently to be ruled upon in court. There are today already many employers who are paying salaries during quarantine.  Please mention to your responsible superior that the company can be paid compensation for loss of earnings if they pay you your salary.

    No claim for salary or payment of compensation for loss of earnings can be made to anyone travelling to a country following its designation as a country at risk from the virus.  

  • I am in quarantine. Allegedly the quarantine period can be reduced if I am tested. Is that correct? Who meets the costs for the test? And am I entittled to compensation for loss of earnings?

    The Swiss Federal Council has decided that the 10-day quarantine period can be ended early if the person concerned undergoes, after the 7th day, a rapid antigen test or a PCR test and the result is negative. This ruling has been in force since February 8, 2021.

    In this case the following applies: Until the quarantine period finally lapses (10 days)  the person must always wear a face mask and  maintain a distance of 1.5 metres from other persons – with the exception of those also living in their home or accommodation (for example vacation accommodation, hotel).  In the case of a positive test the person concerned must go into isolation without delay.

    The regulations state that the costs must be met by the person concerned. Given that the early test is an employer requirement,  the costs be met by the employer.

    As from  February 8, 2021 persons having to quarantine will only be entitled to make a claim for compensation for loss of earnings for 7 days (previously 10 days).  A negative test as from the 7th day, however means you can reduce your quarantine. 

  • I have recovered from Covid-19, but according to the doctor I am still contagious and I have to stay at home. Will the daily sickness benefit insurance continue to pay?

    Yes. As long as your doctor continues to issue a medical certificate and you are unable to work, you will continue to receive daily sickness benefit.

  • I am in self isolation. Am I entitled to compensation for loss of earnings?

    If you yourself are ill and are issued with a medical certificate, you are entitled to continued payment of wages or daily sickness benefit – as is usual in the case of illness - provided that your employer has taken out corresponding insurance for you.

    If you are not ill yourself but have been placed in quarantine by the authorities or by a doctor due to contact with a person who has tested positive, you are entitled to compensation for loss of earnings during the corona crisis. If you self-isolate without official instructions or a medical certificate, you are not entitled to compensation.

Protection of health in the company - what is your boss allowed to do?

  • Can my boss assign me to another place of work or to another activity?

    In principle he cannot. In exceptional cases, such as the corona crisis, your employer is permitted to require you temporarily to do different work or to work at another place. However, this right of instruction is limited: the new work or the new place must be reasonable and may not violate your personal rights – which must always be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

    For example, if your boss assigns you a distant place of work that is not compatible with your family responsibilities, you could refuse the new place of work. However, you should as a first step explain your situation to your employer.

  • So that fewer people are in the office at the same time, my boss has reduced working hours - and now wants to pay me less wages. Is that possible?

    No, he is not allowed to do that. Your boss does indeed have a duty to protect your health, but it is inacceptable to make you foot the bill for this. You retain your right to your current wages. Instead, make your employer aware of the possibility of applying for short-time working as compensation for the reduced number of working hours.

  • Our company has now switched over to working at home. What needs to be considered?

    In times of a pandemic, working at home is strongly recommended wherever this is operationally possible. The Labour Code, which regulates health protection at the workplace, also applies to the home office. Your boss must organise the work appropriately and provide the necessary working tools. The provisions on working hours and rest periods also remain unchanged when working at home - it is essential that the boundary between work and leisure time is maintained. Employees with childcare and similar responsibilities are entitled to special consideration for their needs in order to combine family and working life.

  • My company is not complying with the measures required by the authorities. What should I do?

    Your employer is obliged to take all necessary measures to protect the health of employees. If your employer violates his duty of care, you and any colleagues who are also affected should notify your boss in writing of this irregularity and set a short deadline within which remedial action must be taken. Threaten to stop working otherwise. If the situation does not improve within the set deadline, employees can refuse to work, and your boss must continue to pay their wages. However, refusing to work is a relatively difficult measure, so it is advisable to contact the Cantonal Labour Inspectorate and seek advice from the union before taking any such action.

Childcare – staying at home, when and how?

  • How and where do I apply for compensation if I have to look after children?

    The assumption is that there will be a lack of childcare available for children up to the age of 12 due to official measures in connection with the coronavirus epidemic. Anyone who is employed or self-employed as well as insured under Old-age and survivors' insurance (AHV) is entitled to compensation. No claims can be made during school holidays, unless you are someone particularly at risk or the school has not assumed or organized breaktime care.

    The claim must be made using the Registration for corona loss of earnings compensation. The loss must be notified to the competent AHV compensation fund, by the caring parent. If both parents are caring for the child, they can both register. However, the fund only pays one allowance because it is assumed that one parent is usually needed for childcare, while the other parent can continue working.

    The compensation fund transfers the compensation directly to the parent having entitlement. If the employer continues to pay wages, the compensation will be paid to him. The right to compensation expires as soon as a childcare solution has been found or the measures to combat the coronavirus have been lifted. For self-employed persons, the entitlement is terminated only after 30 daily allowances have been paid.

    More information: Compensation for loss of earnings as a consequence of measures against coronavirus  

    Questions and answers (Swiss Federal Office for Social Insurance  –  in German, French and Italian)

    The legal basis which up to now has applied for loss of earnings due to quarantine ended on September 16, 2020. Since that date new applications must be filed for compensation.

    To the application form

  • What do I do if my child is sick and I have to stay at home?

    You can take at least three days off work on presentation of a medical certificate, and, because of your legal obligation to take care of your child, even longer. However, you are obliged find another solution quickly, i. e., to organise third party child care. As long as third party child care has not been organised, your employer must continue to pay your wages for at least 3 days, and if necessary, a few days longer - assuming you do what is necessary to find third party child care as soon as possible (Article 324a OR [Swiss Law of Obligations]).

Company closure, short-time working, continued payment of wages

  • My company is closed as a result of the corona crisis. Will I receive my wages?

    Yes. If your employer has voluntarily decided to close the company, he is obliged to continue paying your wages. Likewise, if the company has to close due to an official decision, this falls under the operational and economic risk. However, your employer could register for short-time working.

  • What are the age limits for entitlement to short-time working compensation?

    Entitlement begins with the completion of compulsory schooling. The upper age limit is when you reach the normal AHV retirement age; the entitlement ends as soon as unemployment contributions are no longer paid, i. e. in the month following the 64th or 65th birthday respectively.

  • Does my boss need my consent for short-time working? Can I refuse?

    With short-time working, you will also only receive 80 percent of your previous wages. It is therefore essential that you give your consent so that your boss can register short-time working for you (Art. 33 para. 1, Art. 34 para. 1 AVIG [Unemployment Insurance Act]).

    You are entitled to refuse short-time working and insist on full pay. However, you will run the risk of your boss dismissing you for financial reasons. The pay gap of 20 percent resulting from short-time work is a painful burden for many employees - the trade union Unia is campaigning for full wage compensation.

  • I am on sick leave and my company is registering short-time working. Will I now get 100 percent of my wages (sick leave) or only 80 percent (reduced working hours)?

    In the event of illness, you are entitled not just to short-time working allowance, but you can also claim daily sickness benefits (Art. 324a Code of Obligations – OR), provided your employer has taken out appropriate sickness benefits insurance. Your employment contract or possibly the collective agreement will tell you what applies in your case.

    The continued payment of wages lasts for 3 weeks in the first year of service, after which your entitlement depends on a scale (which can be obtained from the Labour Court). In the case of total incapacity to work, 100 percent of the wages are owed. Daily sickness benefit insurance, for its part, usually pays 80 percent of the wages in the event of total incapacity to work, but for up to 720 days and not just for a few weeks as required under the Swiss Code of Obligations.

    You cannot be on sick leave and entitled to short-time working at the same time - if you are sick, you will not receive any short-time working allowance.

    Please note: There is no entitlement to continued payment of wages under the Swiss Code of Obligations for the first 3 months during the first year of service in permanent employment contracts, and in fixed-term employment contracts lasting less than 3 months.

  • Where can I find more detailed information on short-time working?

    You can find more information on loss of work related to the corona crisis on on the Unia unemployment fund website and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) website).

Unemployment - obligations towards ALK [Unemployment Insurance Fund] and RAV [Regional Employment Office]

  • My employer has registered short-time working - and has dismissed me anyway. Is he allowed to do that? Will I now only receive 80 percent of my wages during the notice period?

    Yes, he can - because unfortunately he is not prohibited from giving notice, even if short-time working has been registered. But your employer is no longer allowed to claim short-time working compensation for you, and he owes you your full wages during the period of notice.

  • I have a new job; now the boss wants to give me notice even before I start work.

    As soon as the employment contract has been accepted by both parties - in writing or verbally - it is valid and must be adhered to. If your new boss wants to give you notice even before you start your job, he can. However, he has to observe the notice period, and during this period he owes you 100 percent of your wages. Notice periods apply in accordance with the Swiss Code of Obligations, in so far as no CEC (Collective Employment Contract) is applicable or no other differing contractual notice periods have been agreed.

Fixed-term and temporary employees, working on call

  • I am employed for a fixed term on an hourly wage. Will my wages be paid if there are no assignments?

    In principle, yes, your employer owes you wages, even if he does not call on your services, regardless of whether you work for an hourly wage on a permanent or temporary basis. The only condition is that you have contractually stipulated working hours and that you do not work on call by the hour at your boss's discretion. Moreover, a contract can also be concluded verbally and even tacitly by corresponding behaviour (see work on call, below).

    If your working hours are regulated in this way, your wages are owed accordingly – even in the event of closure of the business. The right to make a claim for compensation for short-time working has not existed since September 1, 2020.

  • I am temporarily employed and my hirer company is closing down. Will I get paid?

    Yes, but not by the hirer company, but by the temporary employment agency that hired you under contract. This agency, and not the hirer company, must then also give notice of termination if necessary. In the case of permanent deployments, notice periods of 2 days (first 3 months) to 1 month (from the 7th month) apply. In the case of fixed-term deployments, the deployment contract is valid until the end date of the fixed term – the employee is entitled to receive wages until then.

  • I have been working on call, irregularly, on short notice. What will I get?

    If you have been working very irregularly and, like your boss, you were completely free to decide whether or not to carry out a deployment - then you are not entitled to a wage if your services are no longer called on.

    If, on the other hand, you have worked for a relatively constant amount of time over a lengthy period and you are no longer assigned work, you are entitled to a wage, because you could be confident that you could continue to work in this way. Your employer must give you notice of termination if he wishes to end your entitlement to wages - but you still have an entitlement to wages during the notice period.

    If your employer can unilaterally determine when you have to work, you are entitled to your average wage if your employer suddenly stops calling you to work. You are also entitled to your previous average wage during the notice period. Your average wage is your wage over the past 12 months, or possibly a shorter duration if the employment relationship has lasted for a shorter period of time.

  • Am I entitled to unemployment benefit when I work on call?

    Yes, if you have been employed in a company for at least 6 months on a permanent contract.

    This applies retrospectively as from 1st September 2020.

Overtime and holidays - what applies in times of corona?

  • My employer is demanding that we now compensate overtime - is that possible?

    In principle, you are not obliged to compensate overtime by free time, and your boss needs your consent for this anyway - unless it has been agreed in your employment contract or in the collective agreement that the employer can unilaterally order compensation.

    However, as an employee, you are exceptionally obliged to participate in overtime compensation if the overriding interests of the company so require. If your company has to close down or reduce work as a result of the corona crisis, this is likely to be the case, and overtime compensation is generally reasonable. (Art. 321 OR [Swiss Law of Obligations]).

    Since September 1, 2020 overtime hours must in accordance with the Swiss Federal Council ruling initially be compensated before reporting short-time working.

  • Do I have to inform my boss if I have been in a risk area or have had contact with infected persons?

    Yes. You are obliged to inform your employer so that he can take the necessary protective measures (Art. 321a OR [Swiss Code of Obligations], duty of loyalty).

  • Many colleagues are sick, and my boss is asking the rest to work overtime. Is he allowed to do that?

    If overtime is necessary for business reasons, you are obliged to work it as far as you are able to do so and it is reasonable. Urgent family obligations, for example, can make overtime unreasonable. Even in the case of the corona crisis, however, the employer must still comply with Labour Law (maximum working hours, rest periods).

  • I will soon be on holiday, but the trip is cancelled, and the situation is not good in Switzerland either. I want to postpone my holiday, but my boss refuses. Is he allowed to do that?

    Yes. Corona and the associated travel and leisure restrictions are not reason enough to thwart the purpose of the holiday. Ultimately, a court must decide in the event of a dispute. It would be different in the case of quarantine, necessary self-isolation or if you fall ill: Holidays cannot be counted here.

  • May I take holidays during short-time work?

    Yes, and you are still entitled to full wages for the holidays, as if there were no short-time working.

  • And if I take a holiday as an hourly-paid worker in short-time working, will I be paid any wages?

    If you receive an additional holiday allowance on top of your normal hourly wages, you will usually not receive any wages during your holidays. This also applies during short-time working, and you will not receive any short-time working compensation during your holidays, because you have been paid your wages for your holidays as a supplement to your hourly wage. For 4 weeks of vacation, the supplement is 8.33 percent.

  • If I am stuck in a risk area during my vacation, will I receive my wages?

    It depends. If you are stuck in a place that is officially quarantined by the authorities, you are entitled to your wages. Without quarantine, however, you are not entitled to a wage - if you cannot return home from your vacation on time, you bear the risk yourself. This also applies, for example, if your airline no longer operates return flights to Switzerland until further notice.