On 7 October 2020, the Swiss Federal Council voted to implement the new Federal Act on improving the compatibility of work and taking care of relatives. The first stage will take effect on 1 January 2021, and the second on 1 July 2021.
Family members play a vital role in society through the care they provide to sick and dependent people. Legislators therefore want to make it easier for carers to combine their responsibilities with employment. Parliament passed the new act back on 20 December 2019; no referendum was held. As a first step, the Federal Council has now made provision for continued salary payment in the event of short absences, extended care credits within Old Age and Survivor’s Insurance (OASI) and amended entitlement to the supplement for intensive at-home care and helplessness allowance under invalidity insurance (IV) for children.
The second stage will cover the 14 weeks’ paid leave for carers of seriously ill or injured children. Carers will be able to take this leave in the form of individual days or as a block within 18 months. The implementing provisions will be agreed in the second stage.
Short absences rule affects employers
To date, the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO) has not included any provision on paid absences for the care of sick or injured family members or life partners. Many companies have included such leave in their rules and regulations, enabling their employees to take up to three days’ paid leave. Now, this principle is being incorporated into the CO. It will allow for a maximum of three days paid leave in any one case, capped at ten days per year. As an employer, you will need to amend your contract terms and regulations accordingly, and potentially add a new absence type to your time recording system.
OASI care credits
Care credits are not a direct financial payment; rather, they count as supplements to the pension-generating income. They can be credited between a person’s 17th birthday and until at the latest 31 December of the year in which they reach retirement age. People who care for a relative living within easy reach (no more than 30 kilometres and one hour’s travel away) are eligible. This relative must receive a moderate or severe-level helplessness allowance from OASI, IV, or accident or military insurance.
Thanks to the care provided by relatives, more people in need of support are able to lead an independent life in their own home. For this reason, legislators want to extend entitlement to these credits to the care of people in receipt of mild-level helplessness allowances. Life partners who have cohabited for at least five years are also eligible to claim the credits.
Helplessness allowances and supplement for intensive at-home care
Under the existing rules, entitlement to helplessness allowance or supplement for intensive at-home care for minors ceases when that minor is admitted to a medical institution or sanatorium, e.g. for rehabilitation or medical treatment. Now, this entitlement will only cease if the child is hospitalised for longer than a full calendar month. If the parents’ presence is required for more than a calendar month and this is confirmed by the hospital, the helplessness allowance will continue to be paid.
If parents bear the cost of their child’s stay, for example for a weekend’s respite care in order to relieve themselves, the helplessness allowance and any supplement for intensive at-home care will also continue to be paid.
Correction to supplementary benefits
A correction to the reform of supplementary benefits will also take effect at the same time as the first stage of the Relative Carers Act. This concerns the allowable rental costs in the calculation of supplementary benefits for recipients living in shared accommodation with people who are not included in the benefit calculation. Previously, the maximum figures per household were shared equally among all inhabitants, disadvantaging recipients who, for example, live in a household with more than two persons. Under the amended approach, the amount is now the same as for two-person households.
A close eye on the need for change
Caring for sick or disabled family members takes time and energy, which can make it hard to combine with an employment. At the same time, it reduces the burden on the care system and means that people in need of support can carry on living in familiar surroundings. These changes to the law are intended to improve compatibility with working life and remuneration for parents of children who are entitled to a helplessness allowance and supplement for intensive at-home care. People who draw supplementary benefits and live in shared accommodation should no longer be placed at a disadvantage.
The relevant considerations for you as an employer are the short absences and 14 weeks’ leave, which does not enter into force until 1 July 2021. You will almost certainly need to adapt your time recording system and potentially revise your contracts and regulations.