Meal vouchers: Cassation rules they can be unilaterally revoked (Andrea Di Nino, Sintesi – Ordine dei Consulenti del Lavoro, October 2020)
The Supreme Court of Cassation, by Order no. 16135 of 28 July 2020, confirmed that meal vouchers do not constitute remuneration and, consequently, the employer may suspend their monthly distribution to employees at any time, including unilaterally.
The facts of the case involve a worker who instituted legal proceedings against his employer, aimed at having the company’s decision to suspend meal voucher distribution to its employees ruled as unlawful. Specifically, in his appeal the worker claimed the function of meal vouchers as a supplement to the contract, a component of remuneration including based on the legitimate expectations of workers following the repeated and generalised company practices from 1999 to 2006. Consequently, meal voucher distribution should be linked to the principle of irreducibility of remuneration.
The Supreme Court judges – in upholding the ruling of the Court of Appeal – first confirmed that meal vouchers do not represent an element of ordinary worker remuneration and thus, are not considered as distribution of a remuneration nature.
According to the Supreme Court, meal vouchers are classifiable as a benefit of a predominantly welfare nature and related to employment by a link that is merely occasional in nature.
In terms of the remuneration nature of meal vouchers, the repeated distribution of the same over time by the employer is not significant, even if such distribution constituted a consolidated company practice. Therefore, since meal vouchers are not part of remuneration in the strict sense, the employer may decide unilaterally regarding their distribution, because it is a company measure of a discretionary nature and completely unrelated to contractual or bargaining agreement provisions.
Given the above considerations, the Court of Cassation rejected the worker’s appeal and confirmed the lawfulness of the employer’s actions.