The Italian Supreme Court, in confirming the first stage judgment and the appeal judgment, recently decided that employees can lawfully suspend working, whilst retaining the right to receive salary, if the working environment is not safe.
The litigation was originally started by the employees of a company who had been assigned to the removal of asbestos from rail cars. Based on the outcome of a health inspection conducted in the workplace, the employees (supported by their unions) asked the company to adopt measures immediately to re-establish safe working conditions. The company refused, so the employees continued going to work, clocking their entrance and exit (in compliance with the working time schedules). They also made themselves available to carry out any work activity (except for the removal of asbestos in the areas not compliant with the health and safety requirements), until the company properly re-established the health and safety of the workplace.
The company stopped paying them so the employees asked the Labour Court of Naples to confirm their right to be paid. The Labour Court and the Labour Court of Appeal confirmed the employees' right to receive salary, on the basis that, as confirmed by technical reports requested by the Labour Court during the case, the working conditions were not compliant with legal health and safety requirements; and, as such, this was a violation of the employer's fundamental obligation to guarantee a safe and healthy workplace.
The employees' refusal to work in the "dangerous" areas was lawful and, given their availability to carry out any other working activity, the employees remained fully entitled to receive their salary. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal by the company, confirming these principles and adding that the employer is not exempt from responsibility even if the risk of exposure in the working environment has not exceeded the legally established maximum tolerance level in the treatment of asbestos.