In 2005, sixty years after maternity benefits were anchored in the Swiss constitution and after four consecutive failures in popular votes, statutory maternity leave was introduced in Switzerland, granting women a minimum of 14 weeks' maternity leave at 80% of their normal salary. Ever since, a discussion has ensued regarding gender equality in parental leave.
In Switzerland, there are no statutory provisions for parental or paternity leave. The Swiss Code of Obligations, for example, merely provides for that the employer must allow the employee, by mutual consultation, the "customary hours and days off work" with full pay during normal working hours for special occasions such as the birth of a child (article 329 para 3 CO). The length of paternity leave is at the discretion of the employer. Usually male employees get one to three days of paid time-off for the birth of a child. Some companies and public administrations already allow longer paternity leaves on a voluntary basis; they are, however, a minority.
In the past few years a growing interest in parental and paternity leave, and in particular the inadequacy of existing legislation and company policies in this respect, has led to a huge number of sometimes far-reaching motions and initiatives filed by parliamentarians and government commissions, calling on the Federal Council to implement generally applicable policies at the federal level. To date, 26 motions have been rejected. Currently, there are several motions on parental and paternity leave pending in the parliament, and Switzerland's Green Party has plans to launch a popular initiative.
However, in the last few weeks at least a consensus with regard to a (higher) minimum standard seems to have been reached in the Swiss parliament and a proposal was approved by the Committee for Social Security and Health of the National Council. The proposal will now in turn be reviewed by the Committee for Social Security and Health of the Council of States, whose approval is required for the preparation of a respective bill.
This proposal suggests a model in which fathers, in analogy with maternity leave, would be granted a two-week (i.e. ten working days) paternity leave after the birth of a child at 80% of their normal salary. This paternity leave could be taken at a time or over a six-month period from the birth. As with maternity leave, this paternity leave would be financed via the Income Compensation Scheme (EO), i.e. on a parity basis between employers and employees. The administrative burden and subsequent costs for the companies would thus be moderate, regardless of the size of the workforce.
However, it is foreseeable that this compromise will only be an intermediary step and that paternity leave will remain one of the hot topics on the agenda for changes in Swiss employment law in the next few years.