The Court of Ravenna refers dismissal of disabled person for exceeding the protected period to the European Court of Justice

Categories: DLP Insights, Legislation, News, Press review | Tag: Dismissal, Court of Cassation

27 Feb 2024

With its order of 4 January 2024, the Court of Ravenna referred to the European Court of Justice the judgment of the Italian legislation on the calculation of absences from work caused by disabling diseases in the protected period (periodo di comporto).

The question posed to the European Court of Justice can be summarised as follows: can the 180-day protected period provided for by the Confcommercio National Collective Bargaining Agreement (Contratto Collettivo Nazionale di Lavoro, ‘CCNL’) (which applies without distinction to both disabled and non-disabled persons) be regarded as a reasonable accommodation that is sufficient for avoiding indirect discrimination against disabled workers?

The order is based on Directive 2000/78/EC, relating to equal treatment in employment and occupation of disabled workers, implemented in Italy by Italian Legislative Decree no. 216/2013.

On the basis of this Directive, a line of case-law has developed at Community level and, subsequently, at national level, which has held that the indiscriminate application of the same period of protection to disabled workers and non-disabled workers amounts to indirect discrimination. This is because it results in unequal treatment to the disadvantage of the disabled person who, due to the vulnerability inherent in the disability,  is placed at a particular disadvantage compared to other workers, given the risk of greater possibility of accumulating days of absence and thus more easily reaching the limits of the protected period.

According to this line of case-law, the dismissal of a disabled person who, because of that disability, exceeds the protected period, must be declared null and void, as it is discriminatory.

The referring judge, after citing the European Court of Justice case on which the national case law in the lower courts and the Court of Cassation is based, raised doubts on the need to prescribe a specific duration of the protected period for disabled people, considering that the Italian legislation on illness already provides significant protection to the disabled person. The judge also expressed doubts about the applicability of mechanisms such as the employer’s deduction of periods of absence due to disability from the protected period.

Among the reasons preventing the introduction of differentiated protection, the Court of Ravenna noted that it would be impossible for the employer to distinguish absences caused by common illness from those due to disabling diseases, given that privacy regulations do not oblige the disabled person to disclose his or her state of health.

For the reasons summarised above, the referring court therefore asked the European Court of Justice to rule on the following questions:

(1) Does Directive 2000/78/EC preclude national legislation which does not provide for different rules between workers who can be classified as disabled and workers who cannot?

(2) If the national legislation were to be regarded in the abstract as constituting indirect discrimination, is the legislation itself nevertheless objectively justified by a legitimate aim and are the means of achieving that aim appropriate and necessary?

(3) Can the provision of unpaid leave, at the worker’s request, amount to suitable and sufficient reasonable accommodation for avoiding discrimination?

(4) Can an accommodation consisting of the employer’s duty to grant a further period fully paid by it, without obtaining consideration for work, be regarded as reasonable?

(5) For the purposes of assessing the discriminatory conduct of the employer, can (for the purposes of establishing the lawfulness or otherwise of the dismissal) the fact that even a possible further period of stability in the relationship paid for by the employer would not have enabled the disabled person to return to work, given his or her continuing illness, be taken into account?

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