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Global employment briefing: Switzerland, January 2018

  • Switzerland
  • Employment law

31-01-2018

The importance of HR files: rights and duties in Switzerland

Employer’s obligation and relevance

Employers are legally required to maintain an HR file for each employee containing personal data relevant to the performance of the employment relationship.

It is not uncommon for the contents of an HR file to become a bone of contention, in particular in the context of the employment terminating. For example, if an employee raises allegations of unfair dismissal, large amounts of overtime or similar. These situations illustrate the importance of HR files in that they are often the primary source of factual evidence, both for the employer as well as the employee.

Employees’ rights and their limitations

Employees are entitled to be informed about the content of their HR file and to generally receive a complete copy of the HR file upon request. The employer has to ensure that the personal data contained in the HR file is correct and protected against unauthorised access, manipulation and destruction. An employee may also request that incorrect information is corrected.

An employee’s information right is suspended if and as long as court proceedings are pending between the employer and the employee in relation to the employment relationship. Moreover, an employee’s information right may be reduced in exceptional cases, for example in order to protect the identity of a whistle-blower.

Contents of the HR file

The entirety of an employee’s personal data about the conclusion, execution and termination of the employment relationship constitutes the HR file of the employee, notwithstanding whether it is collected in one central file or spread over various files. Typically, this includes documents and information such as the employee’s CV, social security number, the employment contract, payroll information, medical certificates in case of illness, working time records, holiday entitlement, performance reviews, etc.

Particular attention is required, for example, with regard to the following documents:

  • Performance appraisals and career management documentation are part of the HR file and should always be consistent with any possible grounds of termination which the employer invokes. Those documents often become relevant in connection with unfair dismissal claims.
  • Correspondence between the employee and the employer: Any correspondence concerning the employment relationship forms part of the HR file, as for example holiday requests, complaints about the employee, etc.
  • Personal notes regarding particular events and preparation of appraisal interviews: Personal notes made by a supervisor or another individual in charge do not belong to the HR file as long as they are not shared with other individuals. Notes on appraisal interviews, on the other hand, form part of the HR file unless they are destroyed immediately.

Retention period

As soon as the HR file is not needed any longer, it has to be destroyed or deleted. However, there is no one-size-fits-all retention period. The statute of limitation varies between 5 and 10 years and there may be a justified need to keep the HR file longer, for example in the event of legal proceedings.

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