In our previous post, we explained the European Union’s pre- and post-pandemic protections of the changing workplace, including remoting arrangements. In this post, we explore the measures our home country—Italy—has taken.
Regulating Telework in Italy: Pre-COVID-19
According to Eurofound (2020), while only 10% worked from home at least several times a week before the pandemic (compared to 15.8% on average in the EU-27), the first wave of the pandemic brought this number to 39.9% (compared to 36.5% on average in the EU-27). This makes Italy among the Member States with the highest increases in the share of workers (18+) working from home during the pandemic.
Smart Working and the Right to Disconnect in Italy
In Italy, the right to disconnect was established in Law 81 of 22 May 2017. Italy maintains a statutory definition of telework, which distinguishes “smart work” from “telework.” Smart work is a more flexible arrangement in which work takes place only partially outside the company’s premises. Importantly, the right to disconnect’ applies to only smart workers in Italy. Individual agreements between the employer and the employee will determine the worker’s rest periods and enforcement measures.
The Italian Directive on Smart Working and Teleworking No. 3/2017 provided specific guidelines on experimentation with and organisation of smart working:
- Public administrations must identify the activities that can be carried out through smart working and outline objectives for implementation yearly.
- They must also adapt their performance measuring evaluation systems (SMVP) to reflect results rather than hours worked and assess the smart working effects in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, and quality of the services provided. Training courses must target employees and management to reduce the digital divide.
? This legislation paid mind to the health and safety of workers even before the pandemic, as it focused on providing support for alternate work environments by focusing on results rather than hours put in by an employee.
Regulating Telework in Italy: Post-COVID-19
Italy is among the EU Member States with the highest increases in teleworking during COVID-19. While only 10% worked from home at least several times a week before the pandemic (compared to 15.8% on average in the EU-27), the first wave of the pandemic saw 39.9% start to work from home (compared to 36.5% on average in the EU-27). The share of companies using remote work went from 28.7% to 82.3%, and the gap between geographical areas (especially between the north and south of Italy) and sectors narrowed.
Many telework arrangements in Italy are regulated at a company level through collective bargaining, which complies with the legal requirements for smart work.
Application: Italian Company Practices on Teleworking During the Pandemic
A 2021 report by the EU-OSHA highlighted examples of company practices on OSH and teleworking. The two Italian companies in the report (Acciai Speciali Terni and Credito Cooperativo Bank) both concluded company-level agreements on teleworking starting in September 2020 until March of 2021, with the opportunity for renewal or extension.
- Both agreements exemplify the approach many Italian companies have taken when regulating telework post-2020:
- Work-life balance and the right to disconnect are acknowledged. Attention is paid to ergonomic issues faced by employees, with the company holding responsibility for supplying safe and functioning equipment
- The company requires training on safety and behavioural risks associated with telework, and the agreements cover insurance for OSH, notable for accidents at work.
- Italian Example of employer liability: In April of 2021, a 51-year-old employee of Treviso metalworking was granted a 20 thousand Euro compensation after falling down the stairs of her home during a smart working shift. While the request for compensation was originally denied, the employee proved that the accident took place while she was making a business call. Thus, she successfully appealed the case with Italy’s INAIL (National Institute for Occupational Accident Insurance) and gained access to free medical visits and therapies related to her injuries for the next decade.
Application: Health and Safety Regulations for Workers
Besides these teleworking regulations, the pandemic has raised questions regarding employer liability in non-traditional, app-based work environments.
The pandemic has brought a rise in food delivery services, which rely on an online ordering system to facilitate employees’ work. The rights and protections of food-delivery workers vary by company. Still, these workers are typically considered self-employed, meaning they are not protected contractually with sick leave, accident coverage, paid holidays, or pension contributions.
Following a series of road accidents involving food delivery workers, an investigation was launched in Milan in 2019 against major food delivery companies Glovo, Uber Eats, Just Eat, and Deliveroo. Italian Prosecutors closed the investigation in February of 2021, ordering the companies to increase hiring efforts, equip workers with proper safety gear such as helmets and reflective vests, pay past insurance fees for riders injured in road accidents, and imposing fines of 733 million euros.
Before the investigation, many food delivery workers were considered “self-employed” and therefore were not protected by worker health and safety legislation, as discussed above. This meant that workers were often sent to work without proper training and were not protected should an accident occur during work.
This brings into question the extent to which workers in the gig economy should receive employee benefits to ensure their health and safety. It is especially important to consider when app-based employment, such as food delivery services, is increasing in popularity.
Application: Italy’s efforts to adapt digital workplaces post-pandemic
Smart working has also resulted in the redesign of spaces and ways of carrying out work, both within and outside the company. This entails redesigning relationships and approaches that offer increasing flexibility, team working and results. Many corporate offices are likely to decommission, with single offices replaced with shared open space, relocate corporate hubs/offices, or create co-working spaces for workers from different organisations to allow people to work closer to home. The Smart Working Observatory (2020) estimates that the redesign of workspaces will affect 51% of large companies.
This redesign of space has been particularly of interest in metropolitan areas of Italy such as Milan. “Agile working” initiatives in response to upticks in smart working may reflect organizational changes Italian companies may undergo in a post-pandemic world.
Agile working initiatives would focus on achieving a work environment that offers both the flexibility of smart working and psychological and collaborative benefits of a shared workspace. Such an initiative has been seen in Public sector smart working regulation in Milan, Italy, through the introduction of the “Organisational plan for agile work” (POLA) in May of 2020.
Here, a three-year development program was introduced, wherein administrations that adopt the POLA agree to use smart working for 60% of workers who can carry out activities remotely. Those who do not adopt the POLA are must accommodate 30% of the workers who request smart working
- This represents an increase in targets compared to the previous Madia Reform, which stipulated at least 10% of workers within three years
- This local protocol acknowledges the likelihood that smart working will continue to be popular even following the pandemic. Thus, this initiative seeks to reduce the negative psychological outcomes associated with remote work, such as isolation and reductions in work-based support systems, by introducing coworking spaces.
- These are temporary shared workplaces with an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, or annual rate. They include other services in the space, such as meeting rooms, equipment, kitchen space, training courses, and (sometimes) secretarial, personal, and childcare services.
- Such initiatives are geared toward protecting remote workers while also preserving the physiological benefits of shared workspaces. POLA acts as an example of how employers may foster healthier work environments for remote workers in a post-pandemic world.
- Research by the Smart Working Observatory of the School of Management at the Polytechnic in Milan found that one in three workers at companies that had implemented smart working initiatives felt fully engaged in the organisation where they work, and felt that smart working better connected them to the companies values, goals and priorities. 22
About the Authors
Cristiano Cominotto is the co-founder of AL Assistenza Legale and has been practicing law since 1997. He also co-founded LawTalks.it, the first online video magazine in Italy for lawyers and companies, and is an active member of the LINEE Network for employees and executives. Cristiano actively serves as Co-Chair of the Tax and Legal Chapter of the British Chamber of Commerce for Italy and as Co-Chair of the Outreach International Committee of the American Bar Association. His work has been recognized by the Financial Times and has received several international awards.
Lilly is a student from Seattle, Washington, and is a BA candidate for public health and political science at Santa Clara University. She is currently working under Cristiano Cominotto while studying in Italy and assisted in developing this report.