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Rights and obligations at work during the pandemic

The pandemic has changed the way we work. We provide answers to central questions.

The answer in detail

Read the impact of the latest developments in our legal tip Corona: The latest federal decisions and their effects

Back to work - what happens next

Updated on 17.11.2020

The pandemic has changed the way we work. We provide answers to central questions.

Does my employer still have a duty of care?

The duty of care remains. Employers are obliged to protect their employees with appropriate and proportionate measures to prevent infection or spread. Concrete measures are, for example, the provision of hand disinfectants at the workplace or hygiene masks. Since October 29, 2020, a mask must also be worn at indoor workplaces throughout Switzerland, unless the distance between workplaces can be maintained, e.g. in individual offices.  Furthermore, employees who show COVID-19 symptoms can be asked to stay at home.

What consequences must I expect as a refuser of protective masks? 

Employees may be fined up to 10,000 CHF for violation of the obligation to wear masks in accordance with the Epidemics Act. In the case of negligence, a fine of up to 5000 CHF is possible. From an employment law perspective, a refusal to comply may result in a warning or dismissal. In the worst case, after a warning, dismissal without notice is even possible 

I would still prefer to stay at home because I am afraid of being infected. Can I do that?

As an employee, you have no right to stay at home - unless the authorities expressly issue an order to do so. If you refuse to come to work in the company, despite a request from your employer, you will be subject to disciplinary measures such as a warning or even dismissal. There is still no entitlement to work in a home office. There is only a recommendation of the FOPH to do so.If you have concrete evidence that you have to fear an infection at your workplace, for example because the hygiene regulations of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) are not being observed, there may be an exception. If this is the case, you must inform your employer of the reasons for your absence from work and demand that the necessary protective measures be taken. We recommend that you do this in writing for the purposes of proof.

I have COVID-19 symptoms and would like to stay away from work. I do not want to infect anyone. Is that all right?

Yes, it's important not to spread the coronavirus any further. Contact your doctor by phone if you have symptoms and follow his instructions. Inform your employer and, if necessary and/or possible, submit a medical certificate. The procedure is basically the same as for other diseases.

Since we had only minimal staffing for several weeks due to the Corona crisis, many pending issues have accumulated. Can I now impose a short-term holiday ban to reduce the accumulated workload?

As an employer, you can basically determine the time of the holidays. At the same time, however, you are obliged to take your employees' wishes into account. If you wish to order holidays, employees have the right to receive information on this in good time (generally three months in advance). If necessary, you may be able to postpone holidays that have already been arranged - this is justified for serious reasons.
Dialogue with employees is important. Point out the urgent and unforeseen operational needs. Your employees must accept a postponement of the holiday date for this reason. Communicate the postponement to your employees as soon as possible. Please note that in such a case, as an employer you must compensate for any damage incurred, such as cancellation costs for a trip.

Due to the still special Corona situation, we have much more work to do in our company. We can only cope with this with overtime. Can I oblige my employees to do so?

Yes, it is possible to oblige your employees to work overtime (see Art. 321c para. 1 OR). In such a special case as the current pandemic, it is justified to require employees to work overtime if it is operationally necessary and reasonable for the employee. In doing so, also take into account the personal situation of your employees, especially their family obligations.

I have employees who belong to a risk group. Can I force them to come back to the office?

On June 19, 2020, the Federal Council suspended numerous measures taken in recent months, including the provisions for the protection of particularly vulnerable persons. The general regulations for the protection of the health of employees therefore apply to all employees. 

Can I ask my employees to return to work, even if the FOPH, as of today (17.11.2020), still advises them to use a home office?

The Federal Office of Public Health has only issued a recommendation. It is not an obligation to allow your employees to continue working from their home office. However, these recommendations should of course be taken into account as far as operationally possible.