The finer points of terminating an employment contract

When it comes to terminating an employment contract, strict time scales and formalities must be followed. Here is an overview of the steps to follow.

The time scale for termination of an individual employment contract is the same for the employer and employee. It depends on the employee’s length of service, in years, within the company.

Termination during the trial period

The time scale for termination of an employment contract during the trial period is seven days. In the case of an open-ended contract, the first month of work is regarded as a trial period. However, this period may be excluded or extended to three months by a written agreement, standard employment contract (SEC) or collective bargaining agreement (CBA). As for fixed-term contracts, the law does not provide for any trial period, but the parties may agree on one. An employee completing an apprenticeship usually has a trial period of three months.

Termination after the trial period

The time scales for termination provided for by law vary, depending on length of service in years. These can be amended by a written contract, an SEC or a CBA. Without a written amendment, the time scales are as follows:

  • One month during the first year of service (after the trial period)
  • Two months from the second year to the ninth year of service
  • Three months from the 10th year of service

An employer may terminate a contract with immediate effect only in the event of serious exceptions such as fraud, refusal to work or competition with the employer. In practice, terminations with immediate effect are very difficult to enforce, as the grounds are often a matter of interpretation. In the event of suspension, the employee is immediately dismissed but must be paid up to the end of the termination period.

Temporary employment contracts end on the date defined in the contract, unless terminated early. Early termination without due cause is not possible, unless this option is clearly stipulated in the contract. If there are relevant reasons, the employer and the employee nevertheless have the right to terminate the contract with immediate effect.

Forms and effective date of termination

A contract may be terminated verbally, but to be certain of being able to furnish proof, it is worthwhile opting for written termination sent by registered mail. The termination is valid only when the addressee (boss or employee) has received the letter. It is therefore preferable to send it sufficiently in advance, so that the notice period is respected. Similarly, notice of termination sent to someone who is on vacation does not take effect until receipt of that notice when the person concerned returns from his or her vacation. Termination communicated verbally takes effect immediately, even if written confirmation is sent at a later date.

Period of protection in the event of prevention from working

The law also provides for a mechanism to prevent an employee from being dismissed during a period of incapacity for work. If an employee is ill or has suffered an accident, he or she is protected against dismissal for a specified period known as the period of protection. This is a maximum of 30 days during the first year of service, 90 days from the second to the fifth year of service and 180 days from the sixth year of service.

The law provides for other special periods of protection. Employees may not be dismissed in the following cases:

  • During military or civic service, and for four weeks before and after, if it lasts more than 11 days.
  • For pregnant employees, during pregnancy and for 16 weeks after birth.
  • During an aid initiative provided by the Confederation overseas, if authorized by the employer.

The employer must end the contract on the employee’s return to the workplace, or once the period of protection has expired. Otherwise, the contract remains valid.

Protection against wrongful termination

Certain laws protect employees against wrongful termination, notably the Code of Obligations and case law. In some cases, the employer may be required to pay compensation of up to six months’ salary.

Termination of contract and balance of leave

Employees who still have leave to use up may ask to take this leave once termination has been announced. However, an employer who has decided to terminate the contract of one of its employees may not force them to take their leave and will sometimes need to pay compensation in cash.


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Last modification 21.08.2018

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