The Court of Cassation, with its ruling no. 7567 of 27 March 2020, observed that in the case of just cause the judge is required to verify the conduct the worker is charged with in all the objective and subjective aspects that compose it, regardless of the characterisation contained in the collective contract.

Facts of the case

The case in hand originated from an argument between an employee with worker duties and his shift supervisor in the company’s premises; during this argument the worker kicked the supervisor in the knee.

The worker was dismissed for just cause based on the contents of the National Labour Collective Contract for employees of the chemical and chemical-pharmaceutical industry which considers this case as “serious disruption of company activity” which justifies, dismissal on the spot.

Following a challenge to the dismissal and, in particular, the conclusion of the “Fornero” interim proceeding, the worker obtained cancellation of the same with the additional protection of reinstatement and compensation for damages as per article 18, paragraph IV, Law no. 300 of 1970.

The former employer company, at this point, filed an appeal against the Court’s sentence, which, ascertaining the existence of the fact, rejected the appeal considering the episode, in any case, not suitable for causing a “serious disruption of company activities”.

The first instance ruling was confirmed under appeal: in particular, the district judges of Milan, underlined how the company despite having contested the altercation and the resorting to violence occurring inside the perimeter of the plant, had not however expressed the essential parameter of “serious disruption of company activities”, nor had it explained, as instead it should have, the actual connotation of this within the framework of the entire episode, indicating the effects of the serious disruptions of company activities that had occurred. Consequently, the judges of the counterclaim considered the contestation inadequate for containing any referral to the event and to its seriousness, essential elements both for integrating the same contestation and put the accused in the condition of organising a defence possibly aimed at negating the event and its connotations.

Objecting to the ruling of the second instance the company appealed to the Cassation Court on three motives, challenged by the worker.

The decision of the Court of Cassation

The Court of Cassation invested with the case first underlined how the legal notion of just cause does not consider the provisions of the collective contract. Therefore, “listing of the cases of dismissal for just cause contained in collective contracts has” a “merely exemplary value, therefore it does not preclude an autonomous assessment by the trial judge concerning the adequacy of a serious breach or behaviour of the worker” such as to “cause the fiduciary relationship to cease between the employer and worker”. Thus the Cassation judges observed that in the verification of the existence of just cause or justified subjective motive for the dismissal, the trial judge finds only the limit that “a dismissal cannot be imposed for just cause when it constitutes a more severe punishment than that contained in the collective contract in relation to a certain violation, meaning the conduct claimed against the worker”.Furthermore, in the ruling in question, it states that “the judge called on to verify the existence of just cause or justified subjective motive for dismissal” is still always required to verify if the provision of the collective contract is consistent with the notions of just cause and justified motive. The same must “verify the conduct, in all the subjective and objective aspects that compose it, including beyond the envisaged contractual cases”. Therefore, the characterisation of the cases envisaged by the collective contract in identifying the conducts constituting just cause for dismissal cannot be considered binding.

Thus the Cassation judges, believing that the territorial court had omitted to assess the seriousness of the contested conduct and consequently the proportionality of the dismissal punishment – in contrast with the requirements of article 2119 of the Civil Code – annulled the ruling and referred the case to the Appeals Court in a different formation.