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Work: rights & obligations

Must I keep going to work? What does the coronavirus mean for companies? What can employees and employers do, and what do they have to do? And under what circumstances does my insurance pay?

Employees

Can my employer insist that I work from home?

The Federal Council has instructed that people who are at particularly high risk should work from home if possible. Where staff are required to attend their usual place of work, employers must take suitable measures to ensure that the federal government's recommendations on hygiene and social distancing are followed. If this is not possible, the employees in question are to be placed on leave by their employer, but will continue to be paid.
For all other employees: the Epidemics Act requires companies to play an active role in slowing the spread of the epidemic whenever a 'special' or 'extraordinary' situation arises. These measures go above and beyond the obligations to protect the health of employees that already exist under the Employment Act and Article 328 of the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO). Employers must carry out the measures recommended or ordered by the health authorities if there is nothing to prevent them from doing so. This includes allowing employees to work from home, especially if they have to travel to work by public transport or live in permanent close contact with people who are particularly at risk (spouse, children, etc.).

Is my employer obliged to protect me?

Yes. As a rule, employers must respect and safeguard employees' personality rights and show due regard for their health. Article 6 paragraph 1 of the Employment Act additionally obliges employers to do everything they can to protect the health of employees by taking measures that: a) experience has shown to be necessary, b) are feasible using the latest technology, and c) are appropriate to the circumstances of the workplace in question. This means that in an area affected by the coronavirus such as Switzerland, employers must take suitable action to minimise the risk of infection, for example by making sanitisers available to all staff. Furthermore, in order to reduce the risk of your passing the infection on to other employees, your employer can instruct you to stay at home for two weeks if you display symptoms of the disease or return from a trip to a high-risk area, for example.

Can I stay at home because I'm afraid of becoming infected?

No. Unless the authorities have instructed otherwise, you are not entitled to stay at home. This would constitute an unfounded refusal to work – and you would not be entitled to any continued salary payments. It is also worth remembering that if you nevertheless stay at home, your employer has the right to dismiss you with immediate effect. However, you may cancel business trips if the place of your meeting or appointment is subject to travel restrictions by the Federal Administration.

What can I do if I need to commute?

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has issued the following recommendations regarding travel by public transport:

  • Whenever possible, use human-powered transport to get to work (i.e. go on foot, by bike or e-bike).
  • Avoid all non-essential travel.
  • Keep a safe distance from others as much as possible when using public transport and waiting at railway stations and stops
  • If possible, avoid rush-hour travel. Peak times on working days are from 6am to 9am and 4pm to 7pm. Variations are possible depending on the route and train.
  • When using public transport, keep a safe distance from other passengers and follow the rules on hygiene and how to behave.
  • Do not use public transport under any circumstances if you display symptoms of a respiratory disease (e.g. coughing or a high temperature).
  • People over 65 should not use public transport.
  • Avoid tourism and leisure travel.

What happens if my child catches the virus?

If you are unable to work through no fault of your own, Article 324a CO says that your employer must continue to pay your salary for a limited period of time. In your case this means: if your child falls ill, either you or the other parent must be given three days' leave. However, the parent in question must present a medical certificate to that effect. Under certain circumstances, your employer can even extend the period of absence beyond three days to allow you to stay at home with your child for longer if required on medical grounds. You must nevertheless make every effort to prevent further absences.

Companies and employers

Does daily sickness indemnity insurance pay if a person falls ill with the coronavirus?

Yes. If someone catches the coronavirus and is unable to work, then daily sickness indemnity insurance from CSS will pay the insured benefits on expiry of the waiting period.

Does daily sickness indemnity insurance pay if a person has been sent home as a preventive measure?

No, daily sickness indemnity insurance does not pay any benefits if an employer sends staff home as a preventive measure and they are unable to work from there. This situation does not qualify as an "illness" as defined in the General Insurance Conditions (AVB). Employers must bear any decline in sales and loss of income as a consequence of entrepreneurial risk themselves. However, under certain circumstances, employers can apply to introduce short-time working.

What happens if a member of my workforce catches the virus? Will I be held liable?

As an employer, you have a duty of care towards the people who work for you. You must do everything you can to reduce the risk of infection to an absolute minimum – and the measures you take must be proportionate. Should an employee nevertheless catch the disease, there will need to be an investigation into whether you have carried out your duty of care to a sufficient standard.

As a business, what else do I have to take into consideration?

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has joined forces with the Federal Commission for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (FCP) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) to produce a manual for workplace preparedness entitled "Handbuch für die betriebliche Vorbereitung" (not available in English). The SECO also has a list of frequently asked questions on its website.

Disclaimer

The health-related information comes from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the Robert Koch Institute. The guidance provided here is purely for information purposes and is no substitute for medical advice. If you experience health problems, you should ask your doctor or another medical professional for advice.

Exclusion of liability

The information presented here on the products and benefits of the CSS Group is designed to provide a general overview and is in no way complete. Actual details can be found in the statutory provisions of the Federal Health Insurance Act (KVG), the Federal Insurance Contract Act (VVG), the General Insurance Conditions (AVB), and the Supplementary Conditions (ZB), which determine the obligation of the CSS Group to provide benefits. The information is provided "as is" without any warranty, and is subject to change at any time.