Workers unable to use the company canteen are entitled to meal vouchers (Andrea Di Nino, Sintesi – Ordine dei Consulenti del Lavoro, maggio 2021)

24 May 2021

The Court of Cassation, in ruling no. 5547 of 1 March 2021 stated that an employee who cannot use the company canteen for service reasons is entitled to a meal voucher instead of a meal if they work more than six hours a day.

The facts of the case involved a shift worker employed by a hospital who applied to establish his right to receive meal vouchers for each shift exceeding six hours and requested compensation from the employer.

The Court of Appeal of Messina, confirming the first instance ruling, upheld the worker’s claim with ruling dated 18 December 2018 no. 906.

The employer appealed this ruling at the Court of Cassation.

The worker worked seven hours in the afternoon shift and 11 hours in the night shift. He could not have used the company canteen service since the care service could not be suspended and there was no evening canteen service. The employee was entitled to meal vouchers as a substitute for the company canteen service and compensation for the damage he was owed for providing the meal at his own expense.

According to the employer, the local Court’s ruling incorrectly identified the right to a break with the canteen rights.  The Court observed that Article 29 paragraph 3 of the supplementary national collective labour agreement for the health sector of 20 September 2001 should be interpreted in conjunction with Legislative Decree  66/2003, Article 8. It concluded that the worker was entitled to meal vouchers.

The subject of the employer’s appeal was the observation that the worker could “provide for the consumption of the meal before starting the afternoon shift and the night shift.” The legislation does not confer the canteen right but regulates “exclusively the right to a break since it provides the possibility to eat a meal during the break.”

On this subject, the Court of Cassation pointed out that Art. 29 of the National Collective Labour Agreement of 20 September 2001, supplementing the National Collective Labour Agreement of 7 April 1999, provides the canteen right for all employees “on days when they are at work, based on their working hours.” “Based on their organisational structure and compatibly with available resources, companies may set up service canteens or guarantee the exercise of the right to a meal as a substitute. The organisation and management of these services are part of the management autonomy of companies. At the same time, the National Collective Labour Agreement defines the rules on the accessibility and exercise of the canteen right by workers.”

Based on the National Collective Labour Agreement, the Supreme Court shows that the consumption of the meal – and the related canteen or meal voucher right – is provided within an unworked break. The judges agreed that “the specific working time organisation was linked to the use of a work break.” Hence the relevance of Article 8 of Legislative Decree 66/2003, according to which “the worker must benefit from a break when the daily working time exceeds six hours, to recover his mental and physical energy and, if necessary, eat a meal.”

From the legislative text, the Court deduced the assumption that “eating a meal is linked to the work break and takes place during the break.” This interpretation shows a consistent link between the canteen right under Article 29 paragraph 2 of the supplementary national collective labour agreement for the health care sector of 20 September 2001 and the right to a break.

A meal voucher is due to an employee who works more than six hours if they cannot use the company canteen.

Confirming the second instance ruling, the Court of Cassation rejected the employer’s appeal and ordered it to pay the costs and additional sums required by law.

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