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Heatwave For Members

Can your boss force you to work during a heatwave in Italy?

The Local Italy
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Can your boss force you to work during a heatwave in Italy?
Can your boss make you work in extreme heat in Italy? AFP PHOTO/ Filippo MONTEFORTE.

Heatwaves are becoming more and more common in Italy, so what are the country's employment laws surrounding extreme heat?

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As the high temperatures continue this summer, the lucky ones will be either heading to the beach or sitting in the shade with a good book and a chilled soft drink while the less fortunate souls will be at work as usual.

But is it ever legally too hot to work in Italy?

What are my rights at work?

The bad news is that Italy doesn't have a nationally unified labour code, and any laws that do touch on workers' rights don't specify an acceptable workplace temperature range - so it’s no good just waving a thermometer at your boss and walking out.

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However, Italy's consolidated text for health and safety in the workplace (Legislative Decree 81/08) says that workplace temperatures "must be appropriate for the human body during working time, taking into account the working methods applied and the physical exertion imposed on workers."

READ ALSO: Italian factories on strike over extreme heat after worker dies

Article 2087 of the civil code also requires that employers undertake measures that are "necessary to protect the physical and moral integrity” of their workers, and this could relate to heat. 

Several studies have shown that doing physical work at above 33C (91.4 F) can prove dangerous to health if no precautions are taken. The death of a worker at an automotive manufacturing plant outside Turin last summer led to factor worker strikes throughout the province.

So it depends on my job?

Right. If, to take a random example, your job involves sitting in an air-conditioned office writing articles about the heatwave, then there is no justification to down tools and head to the bar for an early spritz.

But even for office workers, employers are expected to take steps to ensure employees are comfortable: for example by supplying fans and making sure there is a supply of drinking water.

If no action is taken – despite warnings in advance from weather forecasters – and employees are suffering from the heat, then employers are at fault.

For people doing physical work or work in the open air, employers will be expected to take extra measures to ensure their health is not affected by the heat, and this could include offering longer breaks, providing a cool space for people to take breaks in or changing working hours so that people are not outside during the hottest part of the day.

So if my boss isn’t doing any of that I can walk out?

Not exactly.

Because Italian law doesn't prescribe an acceptable working temperature range or specify exactly what employers have to do to keep their workers comfortable, it's all somewhat open to interpretation.

Between 18 and 24 degrees C (64-75 F) is the ideal temperature for an office, according to Italy's workplace accident insurance institute Inail. It also recommends that in summer there should not be more than a seven-degree difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures - though this isn't much use during a heatwave.

READ ALSO: Six of the coolest places to go in Italy to avoid a heatwave

A 2015 Italian Supreme Court ruling did find that workers who refused to go to work in excessively cold conditions were justified in doing so and were entitled to backpay, indicating the same would likely apply in excessively hot temperatures.

So if you're doing physical work outside, it’s 40C and the boss tells you to keep working right through the hottest part of the day, you may be justified in refusing to work - but you might have to go to court to have that right recognised.

Will the government help?

To a limited extent: in May 2017, Italy's social security office (INPS) stated that in extreme heat of more than 35C (95F) (including 'perceived' temperatures of above 35 degrees, even when the real temperature is lower), social security benefits could be paid out in lieu of wages to workers who would otherwise be forced to work in the direct sun in such conditions.

In July 2021, following the death of an agricultural worker in extreme temperatures, and again in June 2022, Italy's National Labour Inspectorate (INL) sent out a circular reminding employers of this provision.

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The document says INL inspectors would be instructed to "pay particular attention to risks to workers deriving from rising temperatures and to the measures adopted to guarantee workers' safety in compliance with Legislative Decree 81/08" (Italy's health and safety workplace law).

Regional governments may also issue specific rules governing working hours during the hottest months.

For example, the southern region of Puglia in June banned agricultural work "in conditions of prolonged exposure to the sun" between the hours of 12.30 and 4pm, under an ordinance in place until August 31st.

For now, regulations continue to vary across different parts of the country, as well as across different industries.

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