Every employee enjoys the freedom of religion enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Within the framework of the employment relationship, the employer is obliged to protect and respect the personality of the employee, including his or her religious beliefs.
Important Christian religious holidays usually fall on public holidays. These holidays are designated by the cantons, in addition to August 1st, and are treated as Sundays under the Labor Act. The situation of employees who work in several cantons or in a canton other than that of the company's headquarters is subject to special rules.
Unless exceptional authorization is granted by the competent authorities, the employer may not require the employee to work on these days. Nor can the employee be required to make up for lost hours. Companies listed by law whose activities involve work on public holidays have a general exemption that will allow them to keep their employees busy on public holidays without having to request authorization.
While most workers are entitled to time off on public holidays, not all workers are equal when it comes to holiday pay. This issue is particularly sensitive for part-time, on-call, hourly and task-based employees.
Non-Christian holidays are not covered by the cantonal public holidays. In an increasingly multicultural Switzerland, the balance between religious freedom and the legitimate interests of the employer is sometimes difficult to find.
In principle, the employee can ask to be released from work on religious holidays other than those assimilated to public holidays by the cantons. The employee must notify the employer within a certain period of time. However, the right to time off does not mean that the employee will receive his or her salary on that day or that he or she will not have to make up for the time lost.
In principle, the employer is obliged to grant such leave, unless the company's overriding interests outweigh the employee's religious freedom. On the other hand, the employee must respect his contractual obligations. When he systematically asks for a day off during the week to participate in a religious service, the employer has legitimate reasons to refuse.