New law seeks to combat practice of illegal resignations

In March 2008, legislation came into effect which provides for a new procedure for resignations among all types of employees, including those on atypical employment contracts. The law aims to combat the illegal practice whereby certain employers ask hired workers to sign a letter of resignation together with an open-ended contract. The employer can use this letter at a later stage to evade legal restrictions, claiming that the employee has resigned instead of being dismissed.

Widespread practice of ‘white resignations’

Law 188/2007 of 17 October 2007 establishes new procedures which aim to combat the widespread phenomenon of so-called ‘white resignations’ in Italy. This practice occurs when an employer asks a worker to sign an undated letter of resignation at the moment of hiring. The employer can use this letter at a later stage to bypass legal restrictions regarding individual redundancies, transforming a dismissal into a resignation.

This illegal practice is frequently adopted for women, so that they can be conveniently dismissed when they become pregnant, or for legal protection in cases of accidents and injuries at the workplace. In the latter case, the letter is dated before the time of the accident.

The new law came into effect in March 2008 and covers all types of standard and atypical employment contracts, including employer-coordinated freelance contracts, project or temporary work contracts and employment contracts of cooperatives.

New procedures for resignations

The new law exclusively modifies the procedures regarding resignations, leaving the remaining aspects of the previous legislation unaltered.

Accordingly, any worker who decides to resign can refer to one of the institutions listed in the law: namely, the provincial labour office, that is, the decentralised offices of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (Ministero del Lavoro e della Previdenza Sociale), local municipality offices, job centres or trade unions and associations authorised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. Alternatively, workers can complete a resignation form themselves by downloading it from the labour ministry’s website.

The resignation form will indicate the precise date of resignation; the duration of notice varies according to each industry’s national collective agreement. An alpha-numerical code will then be assigned to the completed form, together with the date of when it was sent online to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. This system ensures that each form is unique, making illegal duplication impossible. From this date, the worker will have a deadline of 15 days to present the form to the employer and make their resignation official. If the form is not sent to the employer within the established time, the employment relationship will continue and the resignation will be considered invalid.

Resignations can also be cancelled online by the worker, within 15 days of sending the form. However, in such cases, if the form has already been delivered to the employer, it will be necessary to get permission from the employer in question to cancel the resignation. Furthermore, if errors have been made in the resignation procedure, it will be considered invalid.

It should be noted that online resignations are not obligatory in cases where both the employer and employee are in agreement. Furthermore, they are not necessary in the event of collective redundancies.

Social partner reactions to legislation

The trade unions have strongly criticised the part of the law which allows for consensual agreement to terminate an employer–employee relationship. They argue that, as it is not necessary to register such voluntary resignations online, employers could exploit the so-called ‘white resignations’.

However, the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria) and other employer organisations are satisfied with the new provisions, as many of their requests have been accepted and included in the new law.

Commentary

The new law represents a positive step in making the Italian labour market more transparent, as in the past it has been characterised by substantial levels of irregular work. However, it is uncertain whether the legislation will remain in force, given that it will inevitably increase the level of bureaucracy. Moreover, the new Minister of Labour, Maurizio Sacconi, recently promised employers ‘considerable deregulation’ of the labour market.

In Italy, it is difficult to find a fair balance between protection and restrictions, particularly as the Italian economy is characterised by a high number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and an unacceptable level of irregular and undeclared work.

Vilma Rinolfi and Domenico Paparella, Cesos

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