In July 2015 Switzerland introduced paid parental leave for mothers, securing an 80% salary payment for 14 weeks following birth. Since then, close to 30 parliamentary efforts to introduce an additional two-week parental leave for fathers have failed. Accordingly, Travail Suisse (an influential union) has started to collect the 100,000 signatures which are required to hold a national referendum on the matter.

The initiative calls for 20 days' parental leave which fathers can use freely – for example, either by taking the 20 days following birth or by working only 80% during the 20 weeks following birth. Unsurprisingly, critics fear an estimated Sfr400 million per year will be needed to cover the additional social security contributions to be paid by Swiss businesses.

Nevertheless, paid parental leave for fathers has, to a limited extent, become reality in Switzerland, as a number of well-known employers – including Migros, UBS, Credit Suisse, Swiss Re, Swisscom, Swiss Railways, Swiss National Television, Clariant, IBM, the Raiffeisen Group and Mobiliar Insurance – have already introduced parental leave ranging between 10 and 20 days.

Legislative efforts to introduce parental leave for fathers which is substantially less than the 14 weeks granted to female employees have been criticised as a violation of the constitutional principle of equal gender treatment. A European Court of Human Rights case from 2012 held that preferential treatment of women is allowed only for medical reasons during the eight weeks following birth. In other words, instead of introducing a model of 14 weeks plus four weeks, legislators are also evaluating the possibility of splitting the total 18 weeks (or possibly more) equally between both parents.

For further information on this topic please contact Thomas Rihm at Lutz Partner Rechtsanwälte by telephone (+41 44 368 50 50) or email (thomas.rihm@lutz-partner.ch). The Lutz Partner website can be accessed at www.lutz-partner.ch.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.