HR management of COVID: have our neighbours been more (II) creative?


Our overview of the measures adopted by our European neighbours during the health crisis continues with Italy. The Italian government has marked itself out from other European countries with a flagship measure banning redundancies, along with other initiatives…

A raft of measures has been introduced in Italy to tackle the crisis caused by the pandemic. These have been based around two main pillars: firstly, the protection of workers’ health, including initiatives to promote working from home and, secondly, the protection of their jobs, with a ban on individual or collective redundancies on economic grounds and the adoption of appropriate business support measures similar to our French short-time working (known as CIGO, CIGS and CIGD), although with no minimum decline in activity required.

Out of all the flagship crisis management measures, Italy’s ban on redundancies is certainly what distinguishes it from other countries, in Europe and elsewhere, particularly in terms of the duration and rigidity of the measure.

The ban on economic redundancies, on penalty of them being declared null and void, prevented companies – and still prevents them today under certain conditions – from carrying out individual or collective redundancies on economic grounds, as well as suspending any such ongoing procedures. The ban came into force on 17 March 2020 and was partially lifted from 1 July 2021 for certain sectors, including industry and construction, while the government has set the end date of the ban in other sectors at 31 October 2021.

This significantly limits employers’ powers, raising considerable doubt as to its constitutionality, and is set to last at least 493 days (although the Italian unions are pressuring the government to extend the measure beyond 31 October).

Rare exceptions have been made, allowing redundancies on economic grounds in the event of bankruptcy or by means of a collective agreement, similar to our collective contractual termination.

In order to support companies, particularly those which saw their business dwindle to nothing during the pandemic, the ban on redundancies was combined with a system of reduced social security charges. These mechanisms have supported businesses by reducing salary costs.

The other main measure to tackle the effects of the pandemic has been the widespread use of working from home, which the government has strongly defended and promoted, although without making it compulsory.

Working from home has experienced an unprecedented boom in Italy, as in the rest of the world. The phenomenon had a particularly major impact in Italy, however, considering that before the pandemic less than 5% of the country’s workforce worked from home, increasing to around 72% during the pandemic (data from the Assolombarda report no. 4, 2021).

As a result of the pandemic, and by way of exception to the normally applicable rules, until 31 December 2021 employers can require their employees to work from home without having to agree a specific addendum to their contracts.

Finally, in an attempt to reduce job losses, special rules have been introduced for fixed-term contracts. In Italy, common law stipulates that fixed-term contracts can only be concluded for 12 months. Fixed-term contracts can also be extended or renewed a maximum of four times. During the pandemic and until 31 December 2021, it is stipulated that fixed-term contracts can be extended or renewed freely and unconditionally.