Published: 08.07.13
ETH In-house

A new basis for personnel regulations

The revised Swiss Federal Personnel Act (FPA) came into force on 1 July 2013. This also has implications for ETH Zurich. Among the significant changes are those relating to procedures, notice periods and grounds for dismissal.

Florian Meyer
ETH Zurich’s personnel regulations were amended with effect from 1 July 2013.
ETH Zurich’s personnel regulations were amended with effect from 1 July 2013. (large view)

The provisions of Swiss federal personnel law are being brought more into line with those of the Swiss Code of Obligations, which applies to employment contracts in the private sector. The Federal Parliament approved corresponding changes to the FPA on 14 December 2012 as it wants to give employers and employees more leeway and greater flexibility. The FPA governs the creation and termination of employment contracts for the Swiss Federal Government and institutions with close links to the government. Changes to the personnel regulations in the Federal Institutes of Technology Act (ETH Act) also took effect on 1 July at the same time as the FPA. The Federal Council also approved other changes to the Personnel Ordinance for the ETH Domain (ETH PO) and to the ETH Domain Ordinance (Verordnung ETH-Bereich) on 14 June 2013.

According to Piero Cereghetti, Head of Human Resources at ETH Zurich, the changes to the FPA are primarily legal in nature, with few material changes. By bringing the provisions more into line with the Swiss Code of Obligations, termination procedures are simplified for employers. For example, an employee who believes that he or she was dismissed unfairly can now contact the ETH Appeals Commission directly, instead of contacting the HR department of ETH Zurich. If he wishes to challenge its decision, he can appeal to a higher court, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court.

However, an employee in such a case only receives a salary from ETH Zurich up until the termination date. Should the employee win the case, compensation may be received. Provision for continued employment at ETH Zurich is made in the new FPA only if the termination is deemed to be a serious infringement of the applicable law (e.g. untimely or wrongful dismissal). Instead of continued employment, the employee may submit a claim for compensation amounting to a minimum of six months’ and a maximum of one year’s salary.

The ETH Zurich principle: a chance for everyone

“There is personnel law, and there is personnel policy,” says Piero Cereghetti, Head of Human Resources, “and the personnel policy at ETH Zurich will not change. One of the principles of the personnel policy at ETH Zurich is that employees are not just dismissed without first being given a fair chance to improve.” This principle shall not be affected by the revised FPA. However, the changes which do affect employees of ETH Zurich are those concerning possible grounds for dismissal and notice periods.

The grounds for dismissal previously given in the FPA shall continue to apply, but the legislation no longer lists them exhaustively. ETH Zurich may now also terminate the employment contract on “factually sufficient grounds”, provided of course that it observes Swiss constitutional principles such as equal rights, the prohibition of arbitrary action, and the principle of proportionality. For example, breach of obligations, poor performance or conduct, or lack of suitability are among the grounds for dismissal (Art. 10 FPA). As before, ETH Zurich must provide justification for a dismissal in writing.

New notice periods

The employment contract may now be terminated with one month’s notice during the employee’s first year of service, and with three months’ notice from the second year onwards. Longer or shorter notice periods may be arranged in individual cases. One of the legislator’s basic ideas is that employees seeking a new challenge will have better chances on the employment market as a result of shorter notice periods.

However, some staff associations are unhappy about the changes, given that the notice periods of ETH Domain institutions (ETH, EPFL, PSI, WSL, Empa, Eawag) differ from those of the federal government.

Restructuring and compensation

If dismissals are announced as a result of a restructuring, the social plan shall continue to apply and a solution shall be sought, either within ETH Zurich or externally. ETH Zurich shall provide support to help the employee pursue a new career path or to continue his or her education.

Severance pay and compensation amounting to between one month’s and one year’s salary may be awarded. Compensation may also be awarded if the employment contract is terminated by mutual agreement – factors such as the age of the employee who has been given notice or the duration of the employment are taken as the basis for determining the amount of compensation to be awarded.

Time limits established in the Federal Institutes of Technology Act

Nothing shall change with regard to the special regulations governing time limits for scientific staff and for those employed for specific research projects. What is new, however, is that these regulations governing time limits are now established in the Federal Institutes of Technology Act. ETH Zurich’s personnel policy provides for open-ended contracts to be issued for technical and administrative staff employed for long-term projects.

Finally, a further addition to the revised FPA means that all new fathers at ETH Zurich can now look forward to twice as much paternity leave as it has been increased from five to ten days.

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