Inclusion and integration of employees with disabilities in business: sought-after changes in Italy

Thursday 21 September 2023

Elena Ryolo
Legance, Milan

In Italy, hiring people with disabilities is mandated by specific legislation, which came into existence in 1968 and was significantly amended in 1999. This legislation imposes on public and private employers with more than 15 employees the obligation to recruit disabled employees. The percentage of employees with disabilities increases along with company headcount, as follows:


No of disabled employees to be recruited






7 per cent of total headcount

This obligation can be fulfilled by employers either by directly selecting disabled employees from the labour market or, alternatively, by accepting in their organisation disabled individuals who are identified by the competent offices.

At the same time, employers are required to introduce ‘reasonable accommodations’ to ensure adequate working conditions for people with diverse abilities, while taking into consideration the company’s specific production and business needs. ‘Reasonable accommodations’ also apply in the event of temporary disability, which, according to Italian case law, includes illness, recovery periods and in cases of deficit or disability not officially certified.

In order to fall within the law’s scope, an employee’s disability must have been officially confirmed and certified by the competent health and labour authorities. Certification entitles an individual to specific social security benefits (such as special allowances and pension treatments paid by the state) and as such the process and scrutiny for obtaining certification has become stricter in recent years. As a result, a high number of persons suffering from (especially mental) disabilities do not satisfy the requirements and therefore fail to achieve certified disability status. In addition, the certification process and the communication of its outcome are exclusively voluntary, causing many who already have a job though experience impairments due to their health conditions choose not to go through the process and never obtain certification.

This creates a context where, on the one hand, employers must recruit the required number of ‘certified’ disabled people and also provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ for uncertified employees who require certain working conditions. On the other, a high number of people are not able to obtain the official certification and so do not count as disabled employees for the purposes of the law, but still require (sometimes significant) accommodations to be included in the work environment.

The law imposes administrative fines on employers that fail to hire the required minimum number of disabled employees, which amount to approximately EUR 200 per working day per employee not hired.[1] Compliance with the mandatory hiring of disabled employees is also a pre-condition for participation in public tenders, which compels particular industries to comply.

In an effort to achieve the full compliance target, employers often seek to exploit several exemptions offered by the law, which under certain circumstances permit to avoid or delay the hiring of disabled employees and/or to bear certain economic burdens in exchange for a release. By way of example, under certain conditions, stipulating agreements with competent authorities providing for the gradual and diluted hiring of disabled employees allow employers to be considered compliant for a specific time period. Organisations that struggle to hire the entire quota of disabled employees due to the peculiarities or dangerous nature of their business can be partially released from the obligation by paying a fee.

The employment of disabled employees imposed by the above legislation has been traditionally conceived by employers as a burden rather than an incentive to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Disabled employees have rarely been considered a genuine and influential part of a business organisation.

While the Italian law, as it is currently structured, does not offer adequate context for the effective inclusion of disabled employees in business organisations for the aforementioned reasons, companies’ growing attention to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria is increasing awareness – especially within larger businesses – of the importance of inclusion of those with disability and mental diversity. As a result, a growing number of large companies are trying to establish the conditions for embracing the integration of people with physical and mental disabilities.

A stand-out example is Italy’s top telecommunications company, TIM. In 2020 TIM launched an initiative called ‘4 Weeks 4 Inclusion’, which has grown into a ‘marathon’ of events and webinars to discuss and spread awareness of diversity and inclusion matters and involves some 500 major companies and institutions in Italy. TIM is also known for adopting innovative policies specifically aimed at the inclusion of disabled people in the organisation. With almost 1,400 disabled employees in force at the end of 2022, TIM has developed a sophisticated Disability Management plan, which incorporates a modern approach to remove physical and cultural barriers while focusing on the respective needs of each individual. Disabled employees are regularly involved in the scope of these projects, providing valuable insights and testing.

TIM’s Disability Management plan develops through three primary lines of action:

  1.  Nessuno Escluso (none excluded) periodical campaigns, which aim to provide specifically designed IT and logistic equipment to colleagues with disabilities.
  2. The Sordi Inclusi (deaf included) project, which seeks to address the communication gap between deaf colleagues and the rest of the company through the adoption of technologically advanced solutions.
  3. The neurodiversity programme, which has two main pillars: (1) the ‘Dyslexia No Problem’ project, which saw TIM obtain the Dyslexia Friendly Company Certification in 2021  following a thorough assessment of all business processes that impact written language and the publication of guidelines addressed to dyslexic employees; and (2) the ‘Neurodiversity’ project, which aims to create opportunities for knowledge-sharing, discussion and support concerning neurodiversity, both among employees directly impacted and those who experience it through children, grandchildren or friends. This last project is divided into five stages, each featuring infographics on neurodevelopmental disorders and autism, a video interview on neurodiversity with well-known persons, and some podcasts featuring TIM colleagues with neurodiversity stories to tell.

Similar initiatives are being undertaken by other large organisations in Italy. In 2022 Capgemini launched an internal procedure developed by their ‘CapAbility’ Employee Network Group, aimed at the integration of disabled people through a ‘reasonable accommodation policy’ designed to improve the quality of working life for people with diverse abilities, who are directly involved and invited to provide suggestions. In the same year Autogrill initiated a project to employ differently abled people in their points of sale and renewed partnerships with organisations such as Coordown, which safeguards the rights of people affected by Down Syndrome. Microsoft is known for adopting a Neurodiversity Hiring Programme on the belief that neuro-divergent individuals strengthen the workforce with innovative thinking and creative solutions.

In this changing context, only a few (shy) steps have been taken from a legislative standpoint. As the safeguard of disability rights, in 2022 the Ministry of Labour issued specific guidelines under the Italian Recovery and Resilience Plan, which should somehow facilitate the employment of disabled people. In addition, a draft law is due to be approved and become a general legislative framework on disability. While it is not expected to have a revolutionary impact on the employment of disabled individuals, it will (1) widen the definition of disability in line with the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Union Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021–2030; (2) simplify the procedures for the certification of disability; and (3) better clarify the rights of disabled people regarding the ‘reasonable adjustments’ employers must adopt to adequately and effectively accommodate them in the work environment.

Though these legislative attempts are welcome, we expect the most significant impulse to the genuine inclusion of disabled people in business organisations will stem from a growing number of large organisations themselves, through their increasing commitment to driving valuable practices to embrace inclusion. To the extent such good practices become an inspiration for the entire business community, and maybe receive future recognition and encouragement through state incentives and relief, the employment of disabled people will hopefully cease to be seen as an unavoidable burden and instead become a new priority (and worthy opportunity) on the agenda of CEOs and Human Resources functions.


[1] If multiplied by 260 working days in a year, the sanction totals approx €50,000 on an annual basis (for each disabled employee not hired), which may be reduced should the employer proactively act to remedy the breach.