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California Senate Bill 553 – Targeting Violence in the Workplace

On September 30, 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law California Senate Bill (“SB”) 553, in response to growing concerns over the rise of workplace violence occurring throughout the state. SB 553, codified in Cal. Labor Code § 6401.9, requires virtually all California employers to prepare and implement a written Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (the “Plan”) by July 1, 2024. This article will highlight not only the key components of this groundbreaking new law, but also how it will further the pursuit of safety in the workplace in the future.

“Workplace Violence” – How is it Defined?  

Within the meaning of the statute, the term “workplace violence” is defined as “any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs in a place of employment” and includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • The threat or use of physical force against an employee that results in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, psychological trauma, or stress, regardless of whether the employee sustains an injury;
  • An incident involving a threat or use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, including the use of common objects as weapons, regardless of whether the employee sustains an injury;
  • The following four workplace violence types:
  • “Type 1 violence”: workplace violence committed by a person who has no legitimate business at the worksite, and includes violent acts by anyone who enters the workplace or approaches workers with the intent to commit a crime;
  • “Type 2 violence”: workplace violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or visitors;
  • “Type 3 violence”: workplace violence against an employee by a present or former employee, supervisor, or manager;
  • “Type 4 violence”: workplace violence committed in the workplace by a person who does not work there, but has or is known to have had a personal relationship with an employee.

Workplace Violence does not include lawful acts of self defense or defense of others. Notably, the statute is defined broadly to encompass not only acts of physical violence, but also to threats of violence that would result in psychological trauma or stress regardless of actual bodily injury.

Developing a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan – What is Required?

While not an exhaustive list of all of the requirements imposed by the Plan, its key requirements include the following:

To start, the Plan must identify the person(s) responsible for its implementation, and establish effective procedures to ensure the active involvement of employees. The Plan shall identify and designate employees to develop the Plan, and provide training for employees to implement all of its requirements. Specifically, the Plan shall include trainings to certify that employers and employees understand their respective roles as outlined by the Plan and to ensure that any incidents of workplace violence are reported, investigated, and recorded. Importantly, the Plan must be easily accessible to all employees and be tailored to the specific hazards and corrective measures for each work area and operation.

Moreover, the Plan must contain procedures for the employer to accept and respond to reports of workplace violence, and to prohibit retaliation against any employee who makes such a report.  This requires the employer to establish procedures detailing how their employee(s) may report violent incidents, threats, or other workplace violence to the employer or law enforcement, how the reports will be investigated, and how employee(s) will be notified of the result of the investigation.

To address active workplace violence, the Plan also must contain procedures for actual or potential workplace violence emergencies, including but not limited to, alerting employees of the presence, location, and nature of workplace violence, feasible evacuation or sheltering plans, and how to contact designated staff regarding actual workplace violence. It must also describe procedures for post-incident responses and investigation.

Hope for a Safer Future – What Continuing Duties Does an Employer Have Under the Plan?

Under the Plan, an employer has an ongoing duty to identify and evaluate workplace violence hazards, practices, and conditions, by way of inspections. This requires the employer to not only conduct an inspection to identify potential workplace violence hazards at the time the Plan is first developed, but to also conduct investigations periodically, after each incident of workplace violence, and whenever the employer is made aware of a new or previously unrecognized hazard. The Plan should not only have procedures aimed at identifying and evaluating hazards, but should also include steps for correcting workplace hazardous conditions and/or practices.

The Plan must also contain procedures for reevaluating the Plan itself to ensure that it is effective in implementing and enforcing the requirements of Cal. Labor. Code § 6401.9, and at minimum, must be reevaluated once annually, when a deficiency is observed or becomes apparent, and after a workplace violence incident.

In addition to the Plan, an employer is required to keep a log of each workplace violence incident that contains a detailed description of the incident, the date, time and location of the incident, the type of workplace violence, a classification of the perpetrator, a classification of the circumstances of the incident, classification of the location of the incident, and consequences of the incident. This log must be retained for five years, and must omit any personal identifying information of the employee involved.

It is important that both employers and employees alike understand this important new law to ensure not only compliance, but to also ensure that the workplace remains a safe space for all now and in the future.

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