For members


Can a Swiss employer give preference to a candidate of one nationality over another?

While hiring job applicants based on their nationality may seem discriminatory, the fact is that in certain situations this practice is totally legal in Switzerland.

Can a Swiss employer give preference to a candidate of one nationality over another?
Sometimes, employers must 'discriminate'. Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

First things first: Swiss legislation prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on ethnic origin, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.
In fact, an employer can’t even ask questions related to these areas.

So how is it possible that companies can choose to hire one foreign worker and reject another, based solely on what passports they hold?

And why isn’t this considered ‘discrimination’?

Strict criteria

Employers in Switzerland must comply with government rules, and specifically with the ‘hiring hierarchy’ that applies to the labour market.

This ‘pecking order’, as it were, gives employment priority for any job vacancy to Swiss citizens. If none can be found, then companies can hire workers from the European Union or EFTA state.

In case employees who are qualified for a given job are not available from among the EU / EFTA pool, then (and only then) companies can look for candidates from farther afield —  that is, from third nations.

This is, however, a much more difficult process because non-Europeans are subject to a quota system and more restrictive conditions.

READ ALSO: Switzerland’s planned work quotas for third-country nationals

So when applications from candidates in, say, India or Brasil, are turned down on the basis of their nationality, this rejection can’t be taken as an act of discrimination or racism, but rather as compliance with official rules.

From the purely practical point of view, it is also much easier for an employer to recruit from the EU / EFTA, as these workers have an almost unlimited access to Switzerland’s labour market; the only reason a company would not hire them would be if a Swiss candidate could fill a vacant position.

This means that if a Swiss citizen is hired instead of a foreigner, the latter can’t really claim he or she was discriminated.

The way the government looks at this is that foreign workers — regardless of their nationality — are here to fill the gaps in the labour market, and not to take the jobs away from the Swiss.

There are, however, regulations within those laws.

Let’s say two equally qualified candidates present themselves for a job: one is from Germany and the other from France.

In this case the employer must choose the applicant who is better suited for the position, based on criteria such as education and professional experience.

If the employer selects a candidate based on their nationality — for instance, he likes Germans more than the French (or vice versa) — that could be construed as a discriminatory act.

In the event no Swiss or EU / EFTA candidate could be found and the company is ready to hire non-Europeans, the same rule applies: selection must be based on ability and credentials, and not on nationality.

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For members


Why foreigners who land a job in Switzerland always ask about wages

People from around the globe flock to Switzerland in hopes of a better future and higher income. Yet Switzerland’s living costs are notoriously high and many foreigners are left wondering if what they are projected to make will suffice to live comfortably.

Why foreigners who land a job in Switzerland always ask about wages

Besides chocolate, cheese, and banks full of other people’s money, Switzerland is perhaps best known for being expensive – even for its (future) residents.

Various studies have shown time and again that Swiss consumers pay much more for basic goods and services than most of their European counterparts, and that, paired with inflation, has some people living in Switzerland second-guessing their salaries – even when they are as high as 180k francs a year.

READ MORE: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

A quick browse in an active expat Facebook forum reveals that the main question many have about moving to Switzerland surrounds what constitutes an appropriate salary? 

One poster looking to settle in Geneva asked other foreigners living in Switzerland: “Is a salary of around 180k francs gross enough for comfortable living for a family of 3 people?”

It’s a common question with many fellow potential movers asking about Zurich and Basel and quoting widely different salary offers.

In this case the individual received varying advice on the topic, with one respondent saying that the offered salary is “a hugely high salary – other people live with 50 percent less than that”.

However, a second responded disagreed, arguing that a salary of 180k “won’t be luxurious, but it will be comfortable” while advising the original poster to shop for groceries in France to save money.

READ MORE: Why cross-border shopping has become less popular in Switzerland

Yet another respondent said that 180k gross may just suffice in Geneva, but this will “depend on your lifestyle” and that living just outside the city would be an overall smarter money-saving move.

Another poster also asked a question what constitutes an appropriate entry level wage. Specifically, they asked whether an entry-level software engineering position in Switzerland would pay between 78k and 92.5k – as was estimated online.

One respondent commented that their partner with ten years’ worth of work experience in the industry received offers in the range of 100k to 120k in the canton of Vaud, “which in our opinion is not a lot.”

The poster was also advised by another user to look at the average market salary and “put a few sprinkles on top: health insurance, travel card, bonuses and then add 2.5 percent to the total which is the expected Swiss salary increase for 2023”.

They further recommended the jobseeker factor in whether they will be working from home or go to an office as this could affect their monthly expenses.

READ MORE: How to work out what salary you could earn in Switzerland?

Yet another person asked whether a net salary of 3,600 francs in the canton of Bern would allow them to save around 500 francs each month. They added that the health insurance had already been paid.

Even though its salaries are among the highest in the world, Switzerland is one of only five nations in Europe — the others being Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway — that has never introduced minimum wages nationally. Though some cantons, including Ticino, Neuchâtel, Jura, Basel-City and Geneva, have set fixed minimum wages, Bern has not, and this can severely impact employees’ monthly outgoings.

While some are concerned about their monthly savings potential, others are worried that their monthly wage will not be enough to successfully support a family.

In the same group, a poster enquired “Is a gross salary of 5,000 francs enough for a family of four to live on?”, and while many respondents said that this would largely depend on the canton, Switzerland’s statistics indicate that the family would be living above the poverty threshold.

In fact, recent figures from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) indicate that about 8.5 percent of Switzerland’s population live under the official poverty threshold, which is defined at receiving 2,279 francs per month on average for a single person, and 3,976 francs per month for two adults and two children.

Obviously, this is much more of a problem for people living in high-cost cities like Zurich and Geneva where most foreigners settle, than for those in rural areas where money goes fiurther.

Despite this, one respondent said that with a family that size, earning around 4.500 francs “is going to be a tight budget – even if you are only meant to buy groceries. It’s doable but don’t expect much room in your finances.”

While some foreigners were lucky enough to land a job in Switzerland may have been offered a decent salary, some are left wondering whether their offered relocation package is fair.

One poster asked whether a one-off relocation package of 4,500 francs paid for by the employer will suffice to successfully move to Switzerland. The reply: some employers don’t pay towards your move at all.

But just how much salary is enough to live comfortably in Switzerland?

While wages are determined by various factors, including your education, experience, as well as the canton where you will work, there are ways to find out what salary to expect for the kind of work position you are seeking.

You can find out the general level of wages in your particular field from various sources, including in this article: What is the average salary for (almost) every job in Switzerland?

But, as the title states, these are averages that don’t necessarily take into account all the variables and factors mentioned above.

So, what is a reliable source of salary information?

The site of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has a national wage calculator which is quite specific.

It “enables you to calculate a monthly gross wage (central value or median) and the spread of wages for a specific individual profile,” SECO explains.

To find out, you have to fill out your personal information, such as the industry in which you are seeking employment, your age, years of experience, education, how many hours each week you want to work, as well as the canton where you are looking for a job.