Working hours: A seemingly intuitively understandable term. And yet the legal situation behind it is very complex. In this article, we discuss the basics of Swiss Labour Law. You will learn how many hours employees are allowed to work and when as well as what counts towards working hours and what does not.
What are working hours?
Working hours, also called planned working hours, are the hours in which the employee carries out the agreed work for the employer. Working hours are usually regulated in an employment contract and are clearly defined by legislation through Swiss Labour Law. In addition to working hours, it also regulates rest periods. This shows the entire working week.
How long are the legal working hours?
In addition to the usual 45 hours a week in Switzerland with a full-time workload, there are some exceptions and associated rules that are clearly regulated by law.
A balance between working hours and rest periods serves to protect the health of employees and ensures that they have a socially balanced life in addition to employment. Regulations regarding maximum working hours can also prevent accidents, for example, due to fatigue. Swiss Labour Law stipulates the minimum rest periods for employees and the drawing up of shift schedules.
Maximum weekly working hours (Article 9 of Swiss Labour Law)
According to Swiss Labour Law, the maximum weekly working hours are:
- 45 hours per week for employees in industrial enterprises, office staff, technical and other employees as well as sales staff in large retail establishments.
- 50 hours per week for all other employees.
Working days per week (Art. 16 of Labour Law Regulation 1)
The maximum weekly working hours are 5.5 working days. In certain circumstances and in agreement with the employee, this may be extended to 6 days a week.
Maximum working hours per day (Article 10 of Swiss Labour Law)
The statutory maximum working hours per day in Switzerland total 14 hours: statutory breaks must be observed within these 14 hours. Therefore, effectively a maximum of 12.5 hours of work may be carried out.
It is also important to take into account the statutory rest periods of eleven consecutive hours per day.
Daily rest period (Article 15a of Swiss Labour Law, 19 of Labour Law Regulation 1)
The statutory rest period of eleven consecutive hours per day is embedded in the law.
However, once a week (at least for adult employees) the rest period may be reduced from eleven to eight hours. In this case, however, no statutory overtime may be ordered for work assignments following the shortened rest period.
A practical example
Mr. S works in sales at a major retailer. On Thursday, he accepted the evening sale shift. Since two of his team members were absent on that day, his manager asked him if he could take over the early Friday shift.Mr. S agreed. So when he finished his work on Thursday at 10:13 pm, he went home and enjoyed the rest of his evening. At 7 am the next day, less than 9 hours later, he started work again and greeted his first customers.
This is allowed since Mr S. was informed of this circumstance and this only happened once during that week. His supervisor sent him home on Friday at noon and Mr S. was compensated for his reduced rest period.
Weekly rest day (Articles 18 - 20a of Swiss Labour Law, 21 of Labour Law Ordinance 1)
In our part of the world, a flexible rest period of 35 hours (11 hours rest period per day + 24 hours on Sunday) must be ensured over the weekend, and must include the period of time from Saturday 11 pm to Sunday 11 pm.
Employees in companies that are also permanently open on Sundays, such as restaurants, airports or train stations, are entitled to appropriate compensation. This is usually done in the form of compensatory time:
- In the event of less than 5 hours of work on Sundays: These working hours must be settled within 4 weeks by free time lasting just as long.
- In the event of more than 5 hours of work on Sundays: A rest day of 24 hours must be compensated within the previous or following week.
Note: Even if individuals work permanently on Sundays, a rest period of eleven consecutive hours must be guaranteed.
Half a day off every week (Article 21 of Swiss Labour Law, 20 of Labour Law Regulation 1)If you work more than five days, you are also entitled to half a day off for 8 hours. This should be taken before or after the daily rest period.
There are also exceptions: With the employee's consent, the employer may add the weekly half-days for (at most) four weeks.
What are considered working hours?
The law clearly defines working hours: Working hours refer to the time during which employees carry out the employer's orders and work.
- If you carry out your work outside your employer's premises, for example in the field, the longer working distance to work is considered working hours. Further training, which is either ordered or supported by the employer, is considered working hours.
- Time required for changing your clothes, if necessary (for example in retail). Visits to doctors and to government offices that cannot be carried out in your free time are remunerated as working hours.
- This also applies to women who have to go to appointments because they are pregnant.
What are not considered working hours?
As a rule, commuting is not considered working hours, with the exception of field staff. Education and training not agreed upon with your employer are also not considered working hours.
Break times, as well as lunch breaks, are not working hours. However, breaks are still defined by law:
- For more than 5.5 working hours: min. 15 minutes break
- For more than 7 working hours: min. 30 minutes break
- For more than 7 working hours: min. 60 minutes break
The rather controversial breaks for smoking are also included in unpaid working hours and are also not defined by law, but are usually regulated in agreements or in the employment contract.
Examples of different working hours
Two practical examples show how working hours can be interpreted differently:
Example 1: Mr. Meier is a factory worker. He works from Monday to Friday. Before he starts work, he clocks in, then clocks out again for lunch. After lunch, he clocks in again and clocks out again at 5:15 in the evening. Occasionally, he works longer because of urgent orders, and sometimes he ends work early. At the end of the month, he may have a few extra hours or fewer hours, which are added or deducted in the following month.
Example 2: Ms. Müller is a sales manager for an international group. Sunday afternoon she flies to a client whom she will meet for a meeting on Monday morning. She works remotely with her client between meetings. In the evening, she invites her client to dinner and ends her working day at 11 pm.
In this case, the working hours are defined individually, at a flat rate and are not recorded.
Frequently asked questions about working hours
There are different working hour models. These can be based on daily or weekly working hours, e.g., full-time (in Switzerland: the usual 42-hour week), part-time or flexitime, annual working hours as well as shift or trust-based working hours.
In Switzerland, a full-time workload is usually 45 hours per week. For employees in industrial enterprises, office personnel, technical and other employees as well as sales personnel in large retail enterprises, 45 hours are the maximum weekly working hours according to Swiss Labour Law. For all other employees, the maximum weekly working hours are 50.
The statutory maximum working hours per day in Switzerland total 14 hours: the statutory breaks must be observed within these 14 hours. Therefore, a maximum of 12.5 hours of work may be carried out. It is also important to observe the statutory rest periods of eleven consecutive hours per day.
Yes, a 6-day week is allowed under certain circumstances: if the half days off every week are combined for a maximum of four weeks and the employee agrees to this, then the maximum weekly working time can be extended to 6 weekdays. However, as a rule, 5.5 working days is the maximum.
A maximum of 2 hours of statutory overtime per employee are allowed per day. Exceptions may be made in the event of emergencies or on non-working working days. A maximum of 170 hours (with a maximum weekly working time of 45 hours) or 140 hours (with a maximum weekly working time of 50 hours) of statutory overtime are permitted per year. Learn more about contractual overtime and statutory overtime.