What applies to companies and employees?

The number of people infected with Covid-19 continues to rise rapidly. The Swiss Federal Council on 28 February has categorized the situation in Switzerland as `special' in terms of the Epidemics Act. Large-scale events attended by more than 1000 people are prohibited. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March.

As Covid-19 continues to spread, the question of how to deal with the virus in everyday work life is becoming increasingly important. Many companies have already taken extensive measures to protect health, such as restricting business trips or meetings. At this stage, it is unclear which medium and long-term economic consequences Covid-19 will have.

In this alert, we want to highlight the most important labor & employment law issues.

  • Can the employer deny employees access to the business premises?

In principle, employees have the right to employment and thus have to be allowed access to the business premises. An exception can only be made for employees who have recently travelled to areas in which Covid-19 is already massively spread, at least during the incubation period (approx. 14 days), to protect the remaining employees. If possible, employers can make use of home office regulations in this time. It may also be admissible to close an entire office site for a limited time if this is necessary to protect the employees (e.g. if infected persons have been present in the premises).

  • Can employees claim remuneration in the event of a ban on entering the premises?

If access to the business premises is denied to some or all employees, the employer must continue to pay remuneration. The employer must pay continued remuneration to infected employees for a certain period in accordance with Swiss law.

  • What happens if public transport does not operate and employees cannot commute to work?

The claim of remuneration only exists if the employee performs his work; travel to and from the place of work is the sole responsibility of the employee. Even a swisswide cancellation of public transport will normally be treated as a force majeure event and therefore relieve the employer from the obligation to continue to pay remuneration. Where feasible, employees may be given the opportunity to work in a home office.

  • What happens if schools and kindergartens are closed?

In this case, employees have a right to stay at home if there is no other possibility to take care for their children. Parents in principle have to look for alternative child care, normally within a period of three days. At least during this time, there is an entitlement to continued remuneration.

How can economic consequences be mitigated?

  • Employees should be asked to reduce overtime hours and short-time work can be introduced in the event of supply shortages, if permitted by applicable collective bargaining agreement and/or the employment contracts.
  • In the event of a temporary closure of the site, the remuneration must generally continue to be paid.
  • An introduction of short-time work requires employees' prior consent as well as a respective approval of the cantonal labor authorities.
  • Can employees stay at home without consent of the employer if they are not ill and do not have symptoms?

No, this is a breach of duty and may lead to sanctions by the employer.

  • Can the employer direct employees to take business trips to countries in which Covid-19 is already massively spread?

In principle, the employer can order business trips even in times of Covid-19. However, directing employees to take business trips to a country in which Covid-19 is already massively spread might not be allowed in specific cases, for example if the employee was a risk patient or there is a significant risk of infection.

  • What are the employer's obligations due to the risk of infection?

The employer has a duty of care for the employees. Therefore, appropriate occupational health and safety measures must be taken. In this respect, disinfectants should be provided and technical possibilities as an alternative to physical meetings (e.g. video conferences) should be made use of.

  • What are the consequences if authorities quarantine certain employees?

The ordering of a quarantine is an official measure which includes a ban on employment. In this case, individually banned employees have a claim to continued remuneration irrespective of whether or not it afterwards turns out that the employee was not infected with Covid-19.

  • Can an employer prohibit employees from attending major events such as concerts or sporting events in their leisure time?

The employer's right to issue instructions only very rarely extends to private leisure activities. Thus, a respective restriction outside of working time is in principle not allowed. A termination for this reason in case of noncompliance of the employee would therefore generally not be permitted.

Are you prepared?

In many respects, dealing with the Covid-19 cannot be distinguished from dealing with other disease waves such as the annual wave of influenza. However, given the expected scale and potential economic consequences, more far-reaching measures may be necessary.

The health of your employees is a valuable asset that must be protected. In this respect, precautions should be taken to ensure that both your staff and your company can meet the challenges of Covid-19.