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Under Swiss law a contract exists as soon as you undertake a job for which you expect to be paid. For many Swiss, their word is their bond (in mountain areas, contracts are often oral and sealed by a handshake); however, even if you’re employed only part-time, you should insist on a written contract. You and your employer are obliged to abide by the rules and regulations set out in the Swiss law of obligation (Schweizerisches Obligationenrecht, Droit d’obligation suisse), a copy of which can be purchased from most bookshops.
There are usually no hidden surprises or traps for the unwary in a Swiss employment contract (Arbeitsvertrag, contrat de travail). Nevertheless, as with any contract, you should know exactly what it contains before signing it. If you aren’t fluent in the local language, you should get an English translation (your language ability would need to be excellent to understand the legal jargon that goes into some contracts). Swiss employers seldom provide foreigners with contracts in English, irrespective of the number of English-speaking staff employed.
SURVIVAL TIP: If you cannot obtain a written English translation of your contract, you should at least have it translated orally so that you don’t receive any nasty surprises later – like discovering that you’re required to give six months’ notice.
In some trades or fields (e.g. agriculture, domestic, and hotel and restaurant jobs) standard employment contracts are drafted by cantonal governments or a professional body, based on collective labour contracts or legislation (which cover around half the workforce). These are usually applicable unless both employer and employee agree otherwise in writing. Employment contract disputes can be easily and inexpensively resolved by a court – for information, contact the Federal Commission on Migration/FCM (031 325 9116, http://www.ekm.admin.ch). The FCM also publishes information (in French, German and Italian –unfortunately not yet in English) on a wide range of subjects.
Your employment contract may contain the following:
- the date from which it takes effect and to who it applies;
- your job title;
- the name of your department and manager;
- your main duties;
- how your department relates to other departments;
- your place(s) of work;
- your salary details, including a 13th month’s salary and any agreed increases;
- confidentiality clauses and restrictions on private work;
- information about membership of a compulsory health fund (if applicable);
- medical examination requirement (if applicable );
- a clause stating that the contract is subject to a residence permit or permission to change jobs being granted by the cantonal authorities;
- details of probationary and notice periods.
When you sign a contract, you’re also confirming your agreement with your prospective employer’s general employment terms. Before signing the contract you should therefore obtain a copy of these and ensure that you understand them.
[Hampshire, David. (2015). Employment Contracts. In Living and Working in Switzerland (15th ed., pp. 33-34). Bath: Survival Books.]