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07 February 2018
Under Swiss employment law, employees are entitled to only three fully paid care days for an ill child; there is no regulation for parents, siblings or partners. When Manuela Breiter's husband was diagnosed with cancer, the Zurich woman had to change her life unexpectedly. In order to assist her husband she used up her entire holiday allowance. Unfortunately, the holiday allowance was insufficient and Breiter was granted a temporary release from her employment in order to continue to care for her husband.
Some Swiss companies offer their staff spontaneous and pragmatic solutions to family emergencies. According to a Migros spokesperson, "rigid solutions are not very effective, because every situation is different". Novartis, for example, allows its employees to deal with such situations by taking unpaid leave.
Swisscom has two combinable models. In the first model, an employee can work fewer hours if they have worked at the company for three to four months and compensate for the loss via flexi-time. The employee will be able to work less during the care period and make up for lost time at later date with no financial consequences. The second model is aimed at employees who must care for relatives for a longer period. Such an employee can temporarily reduce his or her workload for a minimum of three months and a maximum of 12 months.
Pharmaceutical company Roche offers short unpaid care leave of up to 10 days or long unpaid care leave of up to six months to care for sick or injured close relatives. Roche supports employees with dependent relatives and provides both internal and external free consulting services to:
Other large companies such as UBS, Zürcher Kantonalbank and individual Migros companies have similar policies.
In light of the arguably insufficient legal situation, Head of Gender Equality Valérie Borioli Sandoz at Travailsuisse, one of Switzerland's largest trade unions says that:
"it is necessary to introduce a comprehensive legislation on leave for the care of all dependents, not just minors… When employees reduce their pensions to look after their loved ones, they have financial disadvantages at the retirement funds – therefore it needs a compensation now."
Google offers all of its employees up to 14 days' care leave. According to a spokesperson for Google Switzerland, the company is "very flexible" and offers unpaid leave or a staff reduction.
Since early 2017 the local Swiss Microsoft subsidiary has offered employees up to four weeks' paid care leave per year. This can be obtained if a close relative is seriously ill and requires help. Microsoft Switzerland human resources manager Jochen Schmidmeir has said that "we demand a lot from our employees, but at the same time we also want them to have time to look after the family". Schmidmeir expects to see two to three paid care leave cases per quarter. Microsoft employs around 600 people in Switzerland and has recently extended parental leave to 20 weeks for mothers and six weeks for fathers.
Traditional family models are becoming rarer, leading to certain disadvantages in the case of family emergencies. Microsoft employs many foreign employees who often live in Switzerland without any family nearby. Schmidmeir has stated that "you cannot count on your parents if the ill spouse needs care… Care leave offers our employees the opportunity to take responsibility and be there for their families".
At Microsoft Switzerland, employees need only complete an application form and do not need to have a medical certificate to prove their needs. Schmidmeir stated:
"This process is about mutual trust and about giving the employee the feeling that they are able to remain effective even in a difficult situation… If we make the approval process too complicated, we would not have helped our employees in a particularly stressful situation."
The Federal Council has recognised that the existing rules are insufficient and the Federal Office of Public Health has been commissioned to investigate better solutions. Switzerland is not as generous as other countries regarding care leave. In France, workers receive three weeks of paid holiday to look after their sick parents, while in the Netherlands, employees can receive up to six weeks of unpaid care leave per year. The Federal Office of Public Health is investigating the need for care leave and how best to provide it. A draft consultation is expected in Spring 2018.
For further information on this topic please contact Thomas Rihm at Rihm Rechtsanwälte by telephone (+41 44 377 77 20) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Rihm Rechtsanwälte website can be accessed at www.rihm-law.ch.
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