Unemployment benefits

Following the event that ACIDUL organised with the Public Services Union on 12th May 2022, we are making available general information on rights to unemployment benefits in Switzerland with the kind permission of Morgane Kuehni and Yann Vincze from the organisation Nouvelle ADC. These notes are based on their presentation.

ACIDUL would like to thank them again for the valuable information and advice they provided during the evening.

If you have any questions about unemployment benefits or would like to make an appointment with Morgane Kuehni, Yann Vincze or another member of the association, you can reach them by phone (077 442 21 84, Mondays and Wednesdays from 9am to 4pm) or e-mail (info@nouvelle-adc.ch). Further information about their services can be found on their website.

What is unemployment insurance (assurance chômage et insolvabilité, LACI)?

The LACI is a compulsory insurance for all employees who contribute to the AVS (you can check your payslip for this information). If you have a contract with the University of Lausanne or the CHUV and you earn more than 500 francs per month, then you are entitled to unemployment benefits, provided that you meet other conditions (see below). As the LACI is federal, the rules are the same in all cantons.

There are two bodies responsible for implementing the LACI:

  • the unemployment funds (caisses de chômage, which can be public or private), whose function is to calculate and distribute unemployment benefits;
  • the regional employment offices (Office régional de placement, ORP), whose function is to “advise” and monitor the unemployed. When you register for unemployment, you will be assigned an adviser who will be responsible for monitoring your file and ensuring that you fulfil your duties and obligations.

What are the conditions for receiving unemployment benefits in Switzerland?

The following conditions must be met:

  • you must be unemployed (totally or partially) and looking for a job;
  • you must reside in Switzerland;
  • you must have contributed to the AVS for a total of 12 months in the two years before you became unemployed (or been released from contribution periods during this time). If you interrupted your professional activity to bring up your children, the contribution period is extended to four years (to reach 12 months of contributions);
  • you must be fit for work;
  • you must meet the requirements (be available for a job, for appointments at the ORP, etc.).

Please note that SNSF mobility grants are not considered salaries. These grants do not entitle you to unemployment benefits.

What does « reside in Switzerland » mean?

To receive unemployment benefits, it is not enough to have a letterbox or to pay your taxes in Switzerland. You have to live in the country. The authorities will pay attention to any change of address prior to your registration for unemployment.

Cross-border commuters (frontaliers) are covered by the unemployment insurance of the country in which they live. If you live in France and have lost your job in Switzerland for instance, you will receive unemployment in France if you meet the conditions there.

Foreigners must have a valid residence permit in Switzerland, which allows them to work in the country. If your permit is no longer valid, you will not be able to receive any benefits, unless you have applied for a renewal of your permit within the time limit.

It is possible to leave the country to look for a job abroad in an EU/EFTA Member State for a maximum of three months, provided that you maintain your residence in Switzerland and have the approval of your Office régional de placement (ORP).

Are contributions to unemployment benefits abroad taken into account?

Days or months of contributions abroad (in principle, only EU and EFTA) count as long as you can prove that you were last employed in Switzerland before registering for unemployment. This rule does not apply to cross-border commuters.

How much can I expect to receive?

Each month, you will receive between 70% and 80% (depending on your situation, e.g. childcare) of the average of your last six or 12 wages. If you are not required to contribute, you will receive a fixed amount according to your age and level of education.

Please note that if you don’t have children and earn more than 3,000 francs a month, there will be a waiting period when you register for unemployment (working days during which you will not be paid). This waiting period is counted only once per benefit period and always at the beginning of the benefit period. The compensation period lasts 24 months and entitles you to a certain number of allowances.

The exact sum you will receive depends on other factors too, such as your age, the extent of your contributions before you became unemployed, etc.

Your allowances will remain the same for the entire period of your unemployment. They will be paid monthly according to the number of working days per month (on average 21.7 days). Since the number of working days varies from one month to another, your benefits won’t be the same every month.

What does “fit for work” and “meet the requirements” mean?

During your period of unemployment :

  • your capacity to work may be assessed (by a doctor, médecin-conseil) ;
  • your availability can be assessed (assignment to jobs or assignment to mesures actives proposed by your ORP adviser, such as internships, courses and programmes);
  • you will have to prove that you are actively looking for work, that you are trying to increase your chances of being hired, etc.

The Swiss law does not define a fixed number of applications per month. The number of applications you’ll have to submit will depend on your experience, your working sector, your adviser, etc. You should expect to have to apply to between four and eight job offers per month. Applications should be spread over the month, so do not send all your applications in the same week. Spontaneous job applications and any conversations you may have about your job search with your network count as applications.

If you do not comply with the mesures actives (e.g. courses, internships, training programmes) that your adviser put in place (by not applying to the required number of job offers, not applying for a job, refusing to participate in a course, etc.), you are at risk of sanctions, i.e. suspension of your daily allowance for a certain period of time, which depends on the degree of your “offence”. There are three degrees of offence:

(1) minor offence (1 to 15 days suspension of allowances) – e.g. missing an appointment or arriving late for an appointment with your ORP adviser;

(2) medium offence (16 to 30 days suspension of allowances) – e.g. refusing to participate in a training course;

(3) serious offence (31 to 60 days suspension of allowances) – e.g. resigning from your job or signing a departure agreement.

These are however only examples; each situation is different. If you arrive late for an appointment several times, the « minor » offence will become a « medium » offence, for example. If you are repeatedly sanctioned, you may lose your right to unemployment benefits.

You should know that you can appeal against a sanction. To find out what your rights are, you can go to LACI’s website.

What should I pay particular attention to?

The unemployment insurance system in Switzerland is complex. Here are some points to which you should pay particular attention:

  • If you have resigned from your job, signed a departure agreement with your employer or did not start looking for work before registering for unemployment, you may be subject to sanctions;
  • Since your benefits will be calculated based on your last six or 12 wages and it is easier to leave the unemployment system than to enter it, you should register for unemployment as soon as you have lost your job rather than accept short-term and/or low-paid jobs before you register. If you have accepted a lower-paid job, you should still register for unemployment so that your former wages can be taken into account to determine the amount of your benefits (your new job will then be considered as an intermediate gain);
  • You must know the exact number of days during which you were employed in Switzerland, the EU or EFTA before registering for unemployment. Each day counts to determine the amount of benefits you are entitled to;
  • You must anticipate international mobility: as mentioned above, SNSF mobility grants are not considered as wages. You must therefore always ensure that you have the 12 months of work within a framework period of 24 months to be entitled to unemployment benefits;
  • Keep in mind that your ORP adviser is neither your confidante nor your therapist. You should not feel pressured to disclose information about your private life (childcare, burn-out, writing your PhD or articles, etc.), as this could lead to sanctions. If you have experienced harassment at work (or other problems with your employer) and have left your job, it is best to make an appointment with a doctor or psychiatrist, who can write a letter of explanation stating that your fitness for work is not put in question, but that you can no longer work for your previous employer. This will protect you from sanctions;
  • The right to holidays is regulated (four weeks per year). You are entitled to go abroad and/or to stop looking for a job during that time. However, you must announce this to your adviser and follow the regulations;
  • Unemployment is not intended for finishing your PhD. You are expected to be available and make an effort to “reduce the damage to the insurance” and find a job as quickly as possible;
  • Keep evidence of all your job search activities (e.g. application letters, emails, etc.), bearing in mind that even an informal conversation with a friend about your job search counts as an application!

For further information, you can consult the page dedicated to the LACI on the website of the Groupe social romand and the Guide des droits et devoirs des chômeurs.

Source: Morgane Kuehni and Yann Vincze, June 2022.