Piazza Del Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele are deserted, and shops and bars are closed during the Coronavirus emergency lockdown, in Milan, Italy, 12 March 2020.ITALY LOCKDOWN CORONAVIRUS, Milan - 12 Mar 2020

MILAN — Following the Italian government’s decision to temporarily shut down all nonessential commercial activities nationwide until March 25, in order to try to significantly limit the coronavirus infection, the situation regarding the employees of the stores that have had to close remains uncertain.

“For the moment, they asked us to use our paid vacation days and it seems that they are trying to understand if they can put the stores’ staff into ‘Cassa Integrazione’ [government-funded leave],” said a store manager, who oversees the Milan unit of an Italian accessories brand with shops in the most important Italian cities. “However, unfortunately, those sales assistants who still had to complete the trial period were laid off, along with the cleaning staff without a permanent contract. I honestly trust the company I work for, but you actually never really know….I’m sure that in this crisis there will be someone who will try to take advantage of the situation.”

According to sources, the brands under the Kering umbrella also as a first step asked the staffs of their Italian stores to use their R.O.L., an acronym standing for “working hours reduction,” or paid time-off periods that can form one or more working days off, as well as paid vacation days.

“Working for an international company with no headquarters in Italy we are in a quite peculiar situation and we haven’t received specific directions yet,” said the manager of a boutique of a French luxury brand. “For the moment, we asked the staff to use their paid time-off periods and vacations. I think the company is waiting for the government to decide the measures to take in this difficult moment. For sure, it’s really hard to imagine that employees, who are using their paid holiday days now, will be able to have decent vacations this summer.”

“When they told us that the store was going to temporarily close, they actually didn’t give us details,” said the store manager of a luxury flagship in Milan’s Golden Triangle shopping area. “I’m not sure they will ask us to use our paid holiday days as they did with colleagues working for other companies. I think the company is waiting to hear what measures the government decides to put at its disposal to face this moment.”

Reached on Thursday, a LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton spokesperson said, “employees from our stores in Italy are recommended to stay at home and they will continue to get paid.”

How will companies and employers be able to cope with the current emergency?

Since the kickoff of the crisis, the requests to the government coming from Confcommercio  Milano, Lodi and Monza and Brianza — the association that groups the companies operating in the three provinces of the Lombardy region, the area most severely hit by the COVID-19 outbreak — were clear. The association’s general secretary Marco Barbieri said they include an extension of the ordinary “cassa integrazione,” a wage support measure usually applied to manufacturing companies, to commercial activities and to all those entities with less than 15 employees, as well as a temporary suspension of the payment of both loans and tax obligations.

The Italian government is expected to sign a decree on Friday, and according to speculation, this should include the so-called “cassa integrazione in deroga,” a wage support measure also available for companies with less than five employees.

Certain financial measures aimed at supporting employers and employees have already been applied to the “red zones” that the government defined at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak to support the companies in the areas of Codogno, Lombardy and Vò, in the Veneto region. On Saturday night — and, even more, on Wednesday — Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the expansion of the coronavirus quarantine measures nationwide, he didn’t confirm the extension of the special measures to the areas outside the previous red zones.

“With the decree, which is to be released tonight or tomorrow, the government is expected to extend the special measures to the whole nation applying facilitating procedures,” said Alessandra Ferroni, head of the labor law team at Italian law firm Gianni, Origoni, Grippo, Cappelli & Partners’ Milan office. “In particular, a wage support measure is expected to be introduced to enable employees to avoid the use of all their annual paid leaves, along with parental leaves for those employees unable to go to work to take care of their children with all the schools closed.”

Ferroni also highlighted that, according to general principles of law, in theory companies would be entitled to cease paying their in-store staff, as they were forced to close their shops pursuant to Wednesday night’s national ordinance. But, if the new decree, as expected, provides for wage support measures, such behavior could be considered illegal.

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