Discrimination and harassment in Italy

A high level outline of the obligations that apply in relation to discrimination and harassment in Italy.

Introduction

During the course of employment, employers are obliged to observe the general principle of equal treatment of all staff, with regard to their employment and conditions of work. The principle of equal treatment requires that employers must not discriminate against employees.

Grounds on which discrimination is prohibited

It is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of:

  • sex
  • marital status
  • race
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • religion, personal and/or convictions or beliefs, and
  • age (further details are available).

Forms of discrimination

The law prohibits:

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • harassment, and
  • victimisation.

It is also unlawful to issue instructions to discriminate on one of the prohibited grounds.

Harassment is also unlawful (see “Harassment” below).

Can discrimination be justified?

The law prohibiting discrimination on the ground of sex in the workplace makes an exception to the general rule of non discrimination. This applies if gender is a determining factor in the way in which a particular job is carried out. In certain occupations (for example, fashion or the performing arts) the requirement that an employee be of a particular gender will not be discriminatory.

Prohibited discrimination in practice

Discrimination is prohibited throughout the employment relationship.

Any action or agreement will be void if it discriminates against workers in relation to their employment, termination of employment, promotion or job content, transfer, disciplinary action and if it is taken on grounds relating to their trade union affiliation (or non-affiliation), trade union activity, sex, age, disability, personal faith, etc. It is also unlawful for employers to discriminate against ex employees after the termination of their relationship.

Harassment

Harassment is any undesirable behaviour related to age, disability, religion, belief, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or marital status which has the purpose or effect of violating the applicant’s or employee’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for the employee. Harassment is prohibited.
Employers are under an obligation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of employees.

Employers’ liability

An employer is potentially liable for any acts of discrimination committed by an employee, regardless of whether the employer knew or approved of the acts. The employer can only avoid this liability if he/she can show that he/she had taken “all such steps as are reasonably practicable” to prevent the discriminatory acts from taking place.

Diversity training for staff

There is no absolute legal requirement to have diversity training for staff but a lack of diversity training may harm a defence to discrimination proceedings.

Enforcement

Individuals who have been subject to discrimination can bring a claim directly under the legislation as can a trade union representative acting on their behalf. In addition, if it is not possible to identify the individual victims of discrimination, trade unions may bring a “collective discrimination” claim against an employer.

Remedies

If a court finds that discrimination has taken place, it can order compensation to be paid, that the discriminatory conduct be stopped and that a plan be implemented to prevent a repetition of the same type of discrimination.

When assessing compensation, one of the factors that the judge may consider is whether the discrimination resulted from the victim’s attempt to establish his/her right to equal treatment. The judge may also order that the court’s decision be published in a national newspaper.

Further details relating to discrimination and harassment in Italy are available from our International Employment Issues (IEI) microsite here.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.