Employers need to do their part during the COVID-19 outbreak in order to preserve the psychological and physical wellbeing of employees. In addition to smart-working and prevention measures, with the support of employees they should implement carefully designed staff management plans to deal with the current emergency, in compliance with the protocol to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplace, executed by the social partners on March 14, 2020.
By means of the Decrees of the President of the Ministries’ Council of March 10 and 11, 2020 (the “10 March Decree” and “11 March Decree”), Italian Government has extended the extraordinary measures for COVID-19 throughout the Italian territory and ordered the closure of all the stores, except essential services like pharmacy and grocery, with significant impact on the daily life of Italians and their consumptions habits. On March 14, at the invitation of the Italian Government, social partners have agreed the health and safety protocol (the “H&S Protocol”) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplace, regulating the access to the companies’ premises and work shifts as well as promoting sanitization of work environments and cleaning of offices and IT devices. After a few days, extraordinary measures to support families and companies were announced by the Italian Government and provided by Law Decree No. 18 of March 17, 2020 so called “Decreto Cura Italia” (the “17 March Decree”).
Until April 3, Italian citizens may not travel in Italy or abroad except for business or health reasons or in other strictly necessary cases.
Companies in all business fields are facing business contraction and need to take countermeasures to manage their personnel efficiently, in compliance with restrictions provided by the 10 March Decree and the H&S Protocol, to protect their health and limit economic losses.
MEASURES TO CONTAIN THE SPREAD OF COVID-19
As employers, companies must do their part during the COVID-19 emergency to ensure the psychological and physical wellbeing of their employees, by employing the following prevention measures, also in accordance with H&S Protocol:
- Suspend the activities of company departments, that are not essential to production.
- Implement smart working, thus allowing employees to work remotely. The liberalization of smart working previously discussed here, has been extended throughout Italy until the end of the emergency (currently July 31, 2020).
- Regulate access of the employees, their presence in canteens and commonplaces and work shifts in order to minimize the risk of infection from contact.
- Implement safety protocols and, in the hypothesis that employees cannot observe the social distancing rule, provide employees with individual protection instruments, as part of a coordinated security strategy, after consulting with the health and safety body, in compliance with the H&S Protocol.
- Restrict access of supplier employees, clients, and other visitors to the company’s premises.
- Cancel face-to-face meetings, instead using teleconference-systems and communication and collaboration platforms.
- Restrict business trips in Italy or abroad to only the strictly necessary.
- Update health and safety documentation in connection to COVID-19 biological risks.
From an operative standpoint, companies can temporarily stop the production and benefit from the public lay-off support for the period strictly necessary to implement the anti-accounting protocols.
MEASURES TO COMBAT ECONOMIC LOSSES
During these difficult times, business contractions shall be tackled without delay, in order to offset the decrease in work as best as possible and combat economic losses.
In addition to enacting the preventive measures listed above, employers should implement carefully designed staff management plans, with the following potential measures taken into consideration:
- Deal with the temporary COVID-19 outbreak through general communication to all employees, keeping them informed of the negative impact of COVID-19 and encouraging them to act in solidarity.
- Invite employees to take accrued holidays, paid leave, optional family leave and the other special leaves provided by 17 March Decree (please see paragraph below).
- Work with employees to temporarily convert their employment relationships from full-time to part-time, with the duration of that arrangement subject to the duration of the state of emergency.
- As a last resort, in the absence of paid leave and holidays, authorize unpaid leave for employees who intend to stop working for personal reasons (other than quarantine status or sick leave).
- Also consider unpaid leave when assessing whether to close temporarily or to access lay-off support or in hypothetical situations where it is not available an alternative solution.
Generally speaking, some of these measures should be handled by working with trade unions (e.g., by means of a solidarity agreement), but given the urgency of the matter, employers should assess the opportunity to work autonomously on extraordinary staff management plans.
PUBLIC SUPPORTING MEASURES
From the government side, the 17 March Decree introduced a first significant round of enhanced supporting measures in favor of employers and employees to deal with the current emergency, applicable to the entire Italian territory.
Main measures in favour of employers and employees:
- To face temporary business contractions and in the case of temporary closure of their businesses, companies can activate lay-off support using the code: “emergenza COVID-19”, without the prior involvement of trade unions (as is required under the standard procedure) retroactively as of February 23, when coronavirus became a social emergency in Italy.
- Lay-off support (Cassa Integrazione Salariale in Deroga) is extended even to companies with less than 5 employees and to companies no longer eligible for standard lay-off programs (Cassa Integrazione Salariale Ordinaria e Straordinaria).
- The lay-off fund (Fondo di Integrazione Salariale) has been financed with new public capital.
- The social security payments have been suspended until June 1, 2020.
- Dismissal procedures (both individual and collective) for redundancy (due to economic and/or organizational reasons) banned for 60 days and suspended for the same period if started after February 23, 2020.
- The quarantine will be considered as sick leave but not counted within the “periodo di comporto”, i.e. the maximum period during which the employee on sick leave is entitled to retain his/her job and receive remuneration (and cannot be dismissed).
- Special optional family leave is provided for employees with children under 12 years of age and regardless of their age if disabled are entitled to special leave of 15 days to share by both parents, with an indemnity equal to the 50% of gross salary. As an alternative, the employees may receive a babysitter voucher of EUR600.
- Paid leaves to take care of disabled persons are extended to 12 days for March and April 2020.
- Economic premium up to EUR100 on March 2020 wage in favour of employees, with an annual remuneration level up to EUR40,000, who are continuing to work in the workplace.
Employers must do their best to preserve the health of both their employees and their businesses. Urgent measure should be taken in this respect, as well as to avoid any headcount reduction: employees should be asked to cooperate by taking accrued holidays and/or other forms of leave and then should look for suitable public support measures, such as the special lay-off support.