AFBS Info Human Resources - May 2020

This AFBS Info is also available as pdf-Document: LINK
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, crisis response has become a top priority for HR management. Within the past weeks, the AFBS Secretariat conducted three online roundtables with HR directors of foreign banks discussing the impact of COVID-19 on their firms' HR organisation, i.e. re-evaluating questions related to working from home, how to protect employees, or vacation planning. This is a summary of the most discussed topics.

Precautionary Measures

Action taken

The splitting of teams, social distancing and avoiding long commutes remain the most important precautionary measures. Banks have installed Plexiglas panels between the working stations and are providing sanitising products. A limitation to a certain number of people being allowed in rooms is also considered (for staff and clients/visitors). Some banks are in the process of implementing electronic badge access systems to avoid people have to touch latches/open doors manually. Some banks call the staff back to the offices on a voluntary basis only.

Some banks invite staff to commute by car to avoid the use public transport. Enough free parking spaces might pose a problem, since traffic is expected to become busier in the next weeks and the city government’s free parking policy will end on 11 May. Some institutes consider purchasing parking permits or renting parking space for their employees.

Strategies on how to meet clients/visitors in the bank are under examination (i.e. wearing face masks, special protection of the reception area/staff, cleaning, disinfecting, making available sanitiser).

Protective Gear

Banks buy face masks, disinfectant and other necessary products for use in the office premises. They do not intend to make available material to their employees for the commute or other activities as they consider this being in the individual employee's own responsibility. They would, however, hand out masks in exceptional cases upon request.

The situation will be reassessed once utilisation of public transportation will intensify. Generally, staff is advised not to commute during rush hours. Also working hours have been adapted and compulsory time of presence made more flexible.

Info: The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) provides further information on how to wear face masks and what group of people are recommended to wear masks: EN DE FR IT

Air Conditioning / Air Ventilation

It is unclear whether air conditioning/ventilation could spread the coronavirus. Ventilation seems more problematic than air conditioning. One bank is evaluating disinfection nebuliser devices for its open space offices (disinfection with hydrogen peroxide in a cold fogging process). More information can be found here: DE (only).

Returning to work / Recovery Plans

How to adapt to the relaxation of measures?

Banks intend to continue home office for the time being. They expect that the recommendations to work from home will remain in place for several months. Banks await more information on the spread/retreat of the pandemic and recommendations by the Federal Council prior to ordering staff to return to the office.

Banks agree that the instruction how and when the staff is supposed to /return to the office should be made by the same means by which the instruction to work from home has been made (email, weekly exchange calls, virtual team meetings, etc.).

How to implement return to the office?

Banks intending to bring at least part of the employees back to the office adopt extensive organisational measures: split-desk policy, distancing, separation with plexiglass walls, restrictions on the use of break rooms, etc. are considered.

Once the situation allows, some banks consider to obligate staff based abroad to self-quarantine for a certain time before returning back to office premises in Switzerland.

Protection Concept Sample (Arbeitgeber Banken)

The bank employer’s association “Arbeitgeber Banken / Employeurs Banques” issued guidelines for the banking sector with suggested protective measures for publicly accessible areas in banks (customer foyers, counters and self-service zones). The guidelines have been drafted upon recommendations of the SECO and are aligned with social partners, thus no further negotiation with employees needs to take place. They are based upon the requirements of the revised COVID-19 Ordinance dd 30.4.2020.

Info: Protection concept Sample Arbeitgeber Banken EN DE FR IT / COVID-19 Ordinance: DE FR IT EN

Events / Meetings

All meetings and/or events (internal and with clients) are postponed for the time being, also no new meetings/events are planned. Video conferences and calls are used wherever possible. 

Support of Employees

How to accompany distressed staff?

The employer (line manager, the HR manager and other superiors) should take time to talk. A tolerant attitude should be adopted in situations of stress. Misbehaviour should entail a firm conversation, empathy should prevail.

How to deal with stress situations due to difficulties in the family / at home?

The employer should assure accompaniment of staff. Regular team meetings and informal conversations are important. Common team routine should be maintained. Regular employee calls with senior management should be organised. Employees should be informed on what is going on. Individual conversations with HR / key staff should be possible at any time.

Working Hours

Can standard work hours be maintained?

It is difficult to maintain standard work hours. People working at home work late because they are disturbed during the day. Overtime may result due to excessive client needs but should be avoided. Breaks should be taken.

How to deal with employees working after 23.00?

HR cannot intervene immediately, but should monitor the situation attentively. Conversation with the member of staff should resolve the situation.

How to assure employees continue working / maintain productivity?

New ways of measuring performance will have to be applied. Working hours may become less important than achievement of goals. Normal rules apply regarding the recording of work time.

Vacation Planning

Accrued holidays

Even though travelling is restricted, holidays should be taken. Rest for the employee must be assured. Holidays can be instructed if best for the safety of the employee / the internal organisation. Some banks impose deadlines for holidays to be taken.

The pandemic situation is not sufficient cause for not taking holidays. Holidays are needed for rest, irrespective of travel being possible or not. The employer needs to make sure the employee can rest and is not exposed to a situation of excessive stress.

Can the employer dictate compensation with time off / holidays?

This depends on the work contract. The employer has the right to dictate holidays, to take into consideration the economic interests of the company and to avoid an accumulation of accrued vacation until the end of the year. Some banks impose at least four weeks be taken by the end of October; also they require two week be taken at least once a year. The employer should also respect the best interest of the employee.

With what notice does the employer have to dictate holidays?

Standard notice period is three months. However, this being an exceptional situation and standard labour law prescriptions such as holiday time remain applicable, a short notice can be sufficient. If holiday is the best means to protect the employee, then they should be instructed. If the employer considers holidays should be taken, it can instruct.

Does the employer accept cancellation of holidays?

Banks tend to accept cancellations for the month of April but not beyond. Holidays should be taken, even in case of emergency. Especially in this situation, breaks are important and should be taken.

Absence Management

How to compensate absenteeism of parents?

The employer is held to compensate three days of absence for a parent's care duties. In case of absence the parent can be required to prove necessity of the absence. Extended periods can be granted upon the employer's discretion.

How does the bank manage the case of an infected member of staff?

Communication to the employees is restricted. In case of necessity the staff / team is quarantined and the office space disinfected. A rapid tracing of possible infection routes is important. The employee can apply for government support in case of long time of absence.

Home Office

How to manage staff who prefers working from the office?

The employer has a duty to care; it should undertake the possible measures to protect such employees from potential risks. In the present situation the employer has the duty to offer home office to its employees, but it is not obliged to instruct home office. It should also undertake appropriate measures to protect staff form risk, especially for persons at risk.

Contribution to cost of home office infrastructure

Some banks make available equipment or refund upon receipts.

Restricted Border Crossings

Staff blocked abroad due to the closure of borders

Some banks were obliged to postpone the starting date for new employees who were blocked at the border. Others have onboarded new staff “virtually”, providing them with full remote access to the systems from home. However, most recruiting activities in Switzerland have been suspended, or remain at a low level. Some banks imposed the rule that all recruiting activities have to be re-assessed from top management level.

Border Controls

Relaxation of controls have started from 11 May. The cantons will process all applications for residence permits and cross-border commuter permits submitted by workers from an EU or EFTA member state before the introduction of restrictions (25 March). Workers from third countries with a work permit but no entry visa are now permitted to enter. The current border controls will continue.

Info: Federal Council Press Release in EN DE FR IT