My Swiss workplace issued me a laptop. They also issued me a paper detailing the price in Swiss francs of the laptop, apparently with the expectation that I'd pay that amount if anything happened to the laptop.

Is it legal in Switzerland to hold an employee financially responsible for company property in the case of:

  • damage
  • loss
  • theft

I realize the answer might differ for each of these cases, so I'm looking for something that covers as many points as possible.

  • "apparently with the expectation that I'd pay that amount if anything happened to the laptop": did you ask? As an aside, my Swiss employer has sent me two laptops and is about to send me a third, without ever having said anything about cost. But it is a small subsidiary of an originally US company, and the allocation and deployment of my hardware has been handled by the much larger UK subsidiary, so it may not be representative.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


The basic rule for employee's liability is provided by art. 321e of the Swiss Code of Obligations:

Art. 321e

1 The employee is liable for any damage he causes to the employer whether wilfully or by negligence.

2 The extent of the duty of care owed by the employee is determined by the individual employment contract, taking due account of the occupational risk, level of training and technical knowledge associated with the work as well as the employee’s aptitudes and skills of which the employer was or should have been aware.

Furthermore, this clause is one of the mandatory clauses which cannot be derogated to the detriment of the employee under art. 362, i.e, the employee's liability towards damages to the employer cannot be extended beyond what is allowed under art. 321e.

The only "exception" is the general tort principle that one is liable for damanges caused by one's unlawful actions (art. 41).

The overriding principle is that the employee cannot be held liable for losses unless they are at fault, whether by express intention or negligence.

The determination of negligence is governed by al. 2 of the article. The duty of care must be reasonably established based on the nature of the position, inherent risks of businesses, as well as the employee's general situation.

For example, it is an inherent risk of business that a professional driver may from time to time have minor accidents that may cause damages to a company vehicle. Up to a certain limit, the driver-employee cannot be held liable unless they are seriously negligent (e.g. driving under influence, running a red light). The same applies to servers who drop plates.

The employer must also take responsibility partially or wholly if the conditions of work contribute to the potentially negligent event. For example, a boss cannot hire only one worker and require them to keep a store open, and then hold the worker responsible when a theft occured while the worker is in the bathroom.

As for the laptop, whether it concerns damages, loss, or theft, the employee is only liable if the employer can prove intention or negligence in the specific case. If you left it in the office and someone breaks in, obviously you cannot be held liable. But if you forgot to lock the office door? That would depend on the circumstances, e.g. if you could reasonably assume the floor is secure, or whether you were advised by the employer you must always lock the door when you are away.

If the damage is caused by electrical issues at your home and you are allowed to work from home, then it is likely a risk that the business voluntarily takes. On the other hand, if you are explicitly told not to bring company laptop home, the considerations might be different.

Usually, most employers should have insurance for their equipments and would not pursue an employee for the damages since it is relatively difficult to establish liability. The price tag might be just there to keep you viligent...

In any case, general tort principle applies, e.g., the employer cannot just demand whatever price they want, it must be reasonable based on the actual cost, taking into account amortization etc. Practically, your personal civil liability insurance should also be able to provide assistance (since they would be liable if the claim is not opposed).



  • Do you have a sense of why an employer would tell the employee how much the thing cost? Is it to put them on notice of the potential liability (perhaps so they are less likely to be negligent)? Does the threshold for negligence depend on the value of the damaged thing? It seems reasonable to expect an employee to be more careful with a 4,000-franc laptop than with a 25-franc headset, for example.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 23:01
  • @phoog Where I work, the price tag is known to the employee because the division/group has to pay for the laptop. If I need a new laptop, I have to justify why I need the most expensive one the company offers, and my boss has to approve the cost.
    – PMF
    Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 8:45
  • @phoog I think it is just to keep the employee aware that it is expensive... Or that the price is necessary to determine some administrative conditions (e.g. if the item is > certain price, the x level manager must be informed immediately etc.) or fill some forms in case of loss or damages, even if the employee is not liable.
    – xngtng
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 11:20
  • You might throw a €500 laptop in the boot of your car while you place a €3000 laptop carefully on the seat with your jacket wrapped around it for protection.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 23:58

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