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Article

3 min read

A Guide to Employee Background Checks in Switzerland

Legal & compliance
Employee background checks

Author

Michał Kowalewski

Published

March 27, 2024

Last Update

June 25, 2024

Table of Contents

What employers should know before running background checks in Switzerland

Are background checks legal in Switzerland?

What types of background checks are illegal in Switzerland?

Common background check industries in Switzerland

Types of employee background checks in Switzerland

Background check mistakes to avoid in Switzerland

Step-by-step guide to employee background checks in Switzerland

Key takeaways
  1. Employee background checks are a valuable tool in Switzerland, especially in sectors like finance, healthcare, education, IT, and cybersecurity. However, obtaining written consent from the candidate before initiating any checks is mandatory
  2. Switzerland has strict data protection laws (FADP) that heavily influence background checks. Employers must ensure all information collected is relevant to the job and complies with these regulations
  3. While full criminal record checks are restricted, employers can utilize alternatives like verifying education qualifications, employment history, and references. Common checks include criminal record checks, employment verification, reference checks, and professional license verification

Employee background checks should be an integral part of your hiring process in Switzerland. Although not mandatory, they are a common practice, especially in finance, banking, healthcare, education, IT and cybersecurity.

Switzerland is a great place to look for skilled employees. No if ands or buts about it. The country actually ranks #1 in the world for talent competitiveness, and has the highest proportion of tertiary-educated adults (aged 25-64) among OECD countries, at over 50%. Additionally, many Swiss citizens are proficient in multiple languages due to the country's multilingual education system.

All of that contributes to a competitive job market, and highlights the importance of a well-thought out and thorough recruitment process, including pre-employment background checks.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How to run an effective and legal employment screening in Switzerland
  • What are the common types of employee checks in Switzerland
  • Step-by-step process of a thorough employee screening
  • What mistakes to avoid when performing a background check in Switzerland

What employers should know before running background checks in Switzerland

An employee background check is the process of verifying a potential hire’s work history, education, professional qualifications, and any criminal records they might have. It’s particularly beneficial to run before finalizing an employment offer or signing a contract, ensuring the candidate meets the company's standards and requirements. 

Switzerland's strict privacy laws are governed by the Federal Act on Data Protection (FADP), and the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) oversees these processes.

  • The Federal Act on Data Protection (FADP) is Switzerland's primary legislation aimed at protecting the privacy and fundamental rights of individuals concerning the processing of their personal data. It sets out the principles for data processing, rights of data subjects, and obligations of data controllers and processors to ensure data is handled lawfully and securely

  • The Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) is an independent Swiss authority responsible for overseeing data protection and freedom of information. The FDPIC ensures compliance with data protection laws, offers guidance, and can investigate complaints related to data handling

  • Cultural considerations: Switzerland is known for its strong emphasis on privacy and respect for personal information, both culturally and legally. Therefore global employers looking to tap into Switzerland’s talent pool should be mindful of these cultural and legal norms in their interactions and procedures

Yes, background checks are legal in Switzerland, but they are subject to specific regulations and restrictions. 

Recruiters must obtain the candidate's consent before conducting a background check, and the processing of personal data must be justified by a legitimate purpose, such as assessing the candidate's suitability for employment. Although it’s not specified in the law, written consent is recommended for documentation and compliance purposes. 

Additionally, employers must have a legitimate interest in requesting the information, and the scope of the background check should be relevant to the job position. For instance, a financial integrity check might be pertinent for a finance role but not for a non-financial position.

What types of background checks are illegal in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, conducting background checks requires careful adherence to privacy laws. 

  • It's illegal to access a candidate's full criminal record without explicit consent, particularly for roles where such information isn't crucial. 

  • Invasive checks, such as those probing into personal lifestyles without clear job relevance, are also off-limits. 

  • Employers are advised to focus on job-relevant criteria like professional qualifications and references, ensuring compliance with Swiss regulations.

  • Swiss laws strictly prohibit discriminatory practices in employment, including during background checks. Employers must avoid any screening that could discriminate based on personal characteristics unrelated to job performance.

Common background check industries in Switzerland

Background checks are prevalent across various industries in Switzerland, with particular emphasis in sectors where trust, integrity, and safety are paramount. 

  • Finance and Banking: Background checks typically verify criminal records (fraud, embezzlement), employment history, educational qualifications, and potential sanctions list inclusions

  • Healthcare: Background checks often include verification of medical licenses, educational credentials, disciplinary actions from medical boards, and criminal records (violence, drug offenses)

  • Education: Prioritize student safety and well-being: Background checks often involve criminal record checks (violence, child abuse), reference checks to assess teaching skills and conduct, and education verification of teaching qualifications

  • IT and Cybersecurity: Background checks typically verify criminal records (cybercrime, hacking), employment history in IT security roles, and potentially involve security clearance checks for highly sensitive positions

Types of employee background checks in Switzerland

Effective employment screening in Switzerland covers essential aspects to evaluate a candidate's abilities. Knowing these areas helps employers tailor screening processes to meet job requirements and legal standards.

Type of Check Common in Switzerland Reason
Criminal record check Common Ensuring that the candidate has no prior criminal convictions that may pose a risk to the workplace
Employment verification Common Validation of the candidate's work experience, including positions held, duration of employment, and reasons for leaving previous roles
Academic qualifications Common Employers check the candidate's educational credentials to confirm qualifications for the position
Credit check Less common Assessing the candidate's financial responsibility and integrity, particularly relevant for roles involving financial management
Professional license verification Common Confirming the validity of any professional licenses or certifications held by the candidate
Social media screening Common Reviewing the candidate's online presence to assess their professional conduct and reputation

Background check mistakes to avoid in Switzerland

Whether you’re hiring employees or contractors in Switzerland, there are a few things you shouldn’t do as an employer when it comes to background checks:

  • Neglecting written consent: Failing to obtain explicit written consent can lead to legal challenges. Always ensure candidates understand and agree to the background check in writing

  • Overstepping information boundaries: Collecting information unrelated to the job role can infringe on privacy rights and lead to non-compliance with Swiss laws

  • Ignoring privacy regulations: Not adhering to the Federal Act on Data Protection (FADP) can result in significant legal repercussions for your organization

  • Withholding feedback: Not providing feedback to candidates, especially when negative findings influence decisions, can harm your reputation and candidate relations

Step-by-step guide to employee background checks in Switzerland

Employers looking to hire in Switzerland should follow the list of steps below to ensure legal and effective and thorough employee background checks.

  1. Obtain written consent: Begin by obtaining explicit written consent from the candidate for the background check

  2. Define the scope: Clearly define the scope of the background check, ensuring it is relevant to the job role

  3. Verify identity: Start with a basic identity check to confirm the candidate’s details

  4. Check professional qualifications: Verify the candidate's educational and professional qualifications

  5. Check reference: Contact previous employers to confirm the candidate's employment history and conduct

  6. Check criminal record: If relevant to the position, request a criminal record check with the candidate's consent

  7. Check financial integrity: For finance-related positions, consider a financial integrity check

  8. Compliance with FADP: Ensure all steps comply with the Federal Act on Data Protection

  9. Review and decide: Carefully review all gathered information to make an informed hiring decision

  10. Provide feedback: Provide feedback to the candidate, especially if the background check influenced the hiring decision

You can also automate this process using Deel, and get a fast employee background check, with results coming in a matter of minutes.

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Bree Cohen,

VP of Talent, Power Digital Marketing

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