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California Workplace Violence Program Requirements

Submitted by Firm:
Firm Contacts:
Sarah Lea Tobocman
Article Type:
Legal Update

In this episode, we discuss Senate Bill (SB) No. 553, which requires virtually every California employer (large and small) to implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan with very specific requirements by July 1, 2024. Subscribe to our podcast today to stay up to date on employment issues from law experts worldwide.

Host: Holly Goodman (email) (Gunster / Southern Florida)

Guest Speaker: Hieu Williams (email) (Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP / California)

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Welcome to another episode of the Employment Matters podcast, presented by the Employment Law Alliance, the world's largest network of labor and employment lawyers. In this episode, we're joined by Hieu Williams, partner at Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP in California, to discuss the upcoming requirements of Senate Bill (SB) No. 553. This bill mandates a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan for California employers, effective by July 1, 2024.

Requirements of Senate Bill No. 553 for Workplace Violence Prevention

Coverage and Exemptions

Senate Bill No. 553 marks a significant step in addressing workplace violence in California. As explained by Hieu Williams, the law requires almost every employer in the state—regardless of size—to establish a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan by July 1, 2024. This mandate is a legislative response to the alarming increase in mass shootings and other violent incidents at work.

While the requirement is broad, there are specific exemptions. For instance, remote employees working from a location of their choice, including those out of state, are not covered under this mandate. Additionally, worksites with fewer than ten employees that are not publicly accessible, healthcare facilities with existing mandates, law enforcement agencies, and facilities operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are also exempt.

Plan Requirements and Implementation Steps

Employers must develop a written prevention plan tailored to their specific work environments. This involves:

  • Risk Assessment: Identifying potential risk factors across various departments or facilities and conducting a thorough gap analysis.
  • Solution Development: Brainstorming and discussing potential solutions to mitigate identified risks.
  • Employee Training: Conducting annual training for employees on recognizing warning signs, mitigation strategies, and, unfortunately, active shooter preparations and responses.
  • Incident Logging and Review: Maintaining a log of violent incidents, including details of the investigations, responses, and evaluations of the response's effectiveness. This log should also outline corrective actions taken to address any identified gaps.
  • Post-Incident Procedures: Implementing procedures to support employees post-incident, which should include individual trauma counseling and referral resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or wellness centers.

Compliance and Reporting

The bill not only emphasizes prevention but also focuses on accountability and transparency. Employers are required to share records of incidents, including the violent incident log, with employees, their representatives, and with Cal/OSHA upon request. This ensures that all stakeholders are informed and that continuous improvements can be made to the workplace violence prevention plans.

Understanding the Scope of Workplace Violence Under SB No. 553

Definition and Types of Workplace Violence

Senate Bill No. 553 defines workplace violence broadly to include any act or threat of violence that occurs within the workplace. This encompasses not only physical acts but also threats that could result in psychological trauma or stress. Importantly, the legislation specifies that workplace violence includes the use of any dangerous weapon and does not necessarily require actual physical injury to be considered violence. This definition is crucial for employers to understand as it sets the baseline for what incidents need to be logged and addressed.

Examples of Workplace Violence

  • Direct threats or acts of physical violence, such as hitting or shoving.
  • Threats of harm, whether verbal, written, or through digital communication platforms like email or social media.
  • Use of any objects as weapons in a threatening manner.

Exclusions apply to lawful acts such as self-defense, which need not be logged unless they are part of an incident where workplace violence was initially instigated by another party.

Categories of Workplace Violence

Hieu Williams outlines four primary categories of workplace violence to be aware of:

  • Criminal intent: Involving a person with no legitimate relationship to the workplace who enters to commit a crime.
  • Customer/client: Where the perpetrator has a legitimate relationship (like a client) and becomes violent during their interaction.
  • Worker-on-worker: Incidents involving employees or former employees who attack or threaten other employees.
  • Personal relationship: Incidents where someone not directly connected to the workplace (like a domestic partner) enters the workplace to commit violence against someone they know.

Components of the Workplace Violence Prevention Plan

To comply with SB No. 553, employers must develop a comprehensive prevention plan that includes:

  • Identification of team members responsible for the plan: Assigning specific individuals, such as a safety compliance officer or a dedicated task force, to oversee the implementation and ongoing management of the plan.
  • Employee engagement: Utilizing surveys, meetings, or suggestion boxes to involve employees in shaping the prevention plan.
  • Reporting procedures: Establishing clear protocols for employees to report incidents of workplace violence.
  • Response strategies: Outlining specific steps for responding to different types of violence, including investigations, interventions, and follow-up actions.
  • Training and education: Regular training sessions for employees to recognize signs of potential violence and learn response strategies, including preparation for extreme situations like active shooter scenarios.
  • Post-incident handling: Defining the process for post-incident evaluation and support, including trauma counseling and adjustments to the prevention plan based on lessons learned.

Ongoing Review and Updates

Senate Bill No. 553 mandates not just the creation of a workplace violence prevention plan but also its regular review and revision. Employers are required to evaluate their plans annually to identify any deficiencies and make necessary adjustments. This continuous review process ensures that the prevention strategies remain effective and relevant to changing workplace dynamics and potential threats.

Training and Documentation Requirements

A critical component of compliance with SB No. 553 is the extensive training requirement. Employers must provide initial training upon the implementation of the plan and then conduct annual refreshers. This training must cover:

  • The specific elements of the workplace violence prevention plan.
  • Definitions and examples of the types of workplace violence.
  • Procedures for reporting and responding to incidents.
  • Strategies for prevention and response to ensure safety.
  • The availability and contents of the violent incident log, ensuring transparency.

Training sessions are required to be interactive, allowing employees to ask questions and clarify their understanding, which reinforces the practical application of the knowledge gained.

Violent Incident Log and Record Keeping

Employers are also required to maintain a detailed log of all incidents of workplace violence. This log should include:

  • Descriptions of each incident, identifying the nature and consequence of the act.
  • The response undertaken by the employer to address and rectify the situation.
  • Documentation of the investigation and the measures implemented post-incident.

This log must be retained for a minimum of five years, and training records need to be kept for at least one year, documenting who conducted the training, its contents, and the employees who attended.

Ensuring Compliance by the Deadline

The final deadline to comply with all aspects of SB No. 553 is July 1, 2024. California's OSHA will update and enforce these requirements to ensure workplaces adhere to the new standards, aiming to enhance employee safety and health. Employers failing to meet these requirements by the deadline may face significant fines, citations, and potentially even criminal charges for non-compliance, depending on the severity and circumstances.

Advice for Employers

As the deadline approaches, it is imperative for employers to:

  • Begin developing their workplace violence prevention plans without delay.
  • Engage employees in the process, utilizing their insights to identify potential risks and effective countermeasures.
  • Establish a dedicated task force or committee responsible for the plan’s rollout and ongoing management.
  • Regularly review and update the plan to ensure its effectiveness and compliance with evolving legal standards.

Senate Bill No. 553 represents a substantial commitment by California to combat workplace violence and enhance safety across all sectors. By understanding and implementing these new legal requirements, employers can not only comply with the law but also foster a safer, more secure working environment for all employees.