Coronavirus: What you as an employer should know

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Coronavirus: What you as an employer should know

The coronavirus continues to spread, including in Switzerland. This is making many businesses nervous. What measures can be required of employers to prevent infection at the workplace, and how can employees protect themselves?
The coronavirus is spreading faster than other viruses. As with other flu epidemics, it is important to take personal responsibility and protect yourself properly by regularly washing your hands, and sneezing and coughing into the crook of your arm or into a handkerchief. But what obligations do employers have?

The safety and protection of employees has top priority

In the event of a pandemic, you as an employer must implement the protective measures ordered by the authorities. However, since the authorities usually only make recommendations, a company should analyse its own situation and take the necessary protective measures.

What are your obligations as an employer? You have a an obligation to ensure the welfare of your employees. This means taking measures that are necessary for their health. Such measures are intended to prevent infection or the spread of the virus and must be suitable, appropriate and within reason for the current situation. One example of a concrete measure is making hand disinfectant available at the workplace.

Measuring employees' body temperature is a very delicate matter. In hospitals and nursing homes, however, it can be quite useful and appropriate to ensure that employees do not have a fever. Deciding which protective measures are proportionate and reasonable therefore depends heavily on the business in question.

How to protect yourself

  • Use consistent hand hygiene by washing your hands regularly and using hand disinfectant, especially after taking public transport and using handkerchiefs.
  • Avoid handshakes
  • Sneeze and cough into the crook of your arm or a handkerchief. After use, dispose of the handkerchief in a closed trash can.
  • Self quarantine: If symptoms such as fever, coughing or breathing difficulties occur, seek medical help by telephone and stay at home.

Further information can be found on the Federal Office of Public Health's (FOPH) website.

As an employer, are you liable if your employees get sick at work?

Employers are liable if they do not implement the prescribed protective measures. But employees can also be liable if they fall ill and go to work despite typical symptoms such as coughing and fever. Such behavior may even be punishable under certain circumstances – if it causes a conscious or negligent spread of disease and thus endangers the lives of others. Based on the employee's duty of good faith in the employment contract, employees are obliged to inform their employer if they themselves or a person in their immediate environment falls ill or is suspected of falling ill with coronavirus.

What you should be aware of when employees show symptoms of coronavirus

Symptoms of coronavirus are essentially indistinguishable from those of a normal flu. Only laboratory tests can determine whether a person has the coronavirus. Coughing or sneezing alone does not justify a test for coronavirus. A test is only justified in combination with other relevant indications, for example, if the patient has recently been to China or Northern Italy.

As an employer, you can require employees to remain in quarantine at home for a period of time and, if possible, to work from their home office. If employees are unable to work from home, employers still have an obligation to continue to pay wages. In the case of a quarantine ordered by the authorities, the situation could be different.

What if you have to close your business?

Have you taken out insurance against loss of earnings? The authorities may require you to close your business due to the risk of virus. In this case, the area of responsibility for any loss in work performance must be determined. Depending on the circumstances, there may or may not be an obligation to continue to pay wages.

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