Elements that qualifies the subordinate nature of the employment relationship

In a recent ruling (N. 1095 of Jan. 16, 2023), the Supreme Court affirmed that the existence of an employment relationship of a subordinate nature can also be proven through the use of circumstantial elements in cases where it is not possible to render proof of the exercise of managerial, disciplinary and control power by the employer (so-called hetero-direction).

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Subordination in employment relationship

The case examined by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s ruling takes as its starting point a case concerning an application for recognition of the existence of a subordinate employment relationship brought before the courts by a worker against a company with which, in particular, he had continuously worked by virtue of signing employment contracts of a self-employed nature and, more specifically, consulting assignments.

The worker’s claims, rejected at first instance by the Court of Pisa, were instead upheld before the Court of Appeal of Florence.

The circumstantial elements of subordination

The Supreme Court of Cassation, confirming the ruling of the Court of Appeal of Florence, noted, first of all, how, according to constant case law, the essential character of subordination is represented by the personal subjection of the employee to the employer’s power of direction, discipline and control, an aspect that is inherent in particular to the concrete manner in which the work is carried out and not only to the result of the work.

That said, the Supreme Court has also specified that such subjection does not constitute an elementary fact, but rather a mode of being of the labor relationship that can potentially be inferred from an articulated complex of further circumstances.

In view of the above, therefore, the Supreme Court held that in the event that the facts of the case do not expressly show that the employer exercised managerial, disciplinary and supervisory power, for the purpose of recognizing the subordinate nature of the employment relationship between the parties, it is possible to refer to certain circumstantial elements, such as:

  • the generic object of the contract of an autonomous nature,
  • the continuity of work performance,
  • the observance of a predetermined working time defined between the parties,
  • the payment by the employer at fixed intervals of a predetermined remuneration commensurate with the days worked,
  • the absence on the part of the worker of any economic risk,
  • the non-existence of even a minimal entrepreneurial structure on the part of the employee.

According to the ruling of the court of legitimacy, in fact, such elements, while not having decisive value for the purpose of recognizing the subordinate nature of the employment relationship, in any case constitute “suitable indications to integrate presumptive evidence of subordination, provided that the same are subject to an overall and comprehensive assessment”.

In conclusion, therefore–even in the absence of direct evidence of so-called hetero-direction– it must be held that the subordinate nature of the employment relationship can in any case emerge from the body of circumstantial evidence acquired in the course of the trial.

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