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Illustration by iStock; Security Management

California Ups the Ante on Workplace Violence Prevention Programs

California businesses will soon be subject to new requirements to maintain workplace safety while providing new tools to prohibit threatening actors from entering workplace environments.

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law S.B. 533 last week after working with legislators and business leaders to ensure it did not impede their ability to respond to retail theft and violence, according to a statement from his office. Specifically, provisions were removed from the bill that would have banned employers from directing non-security staff to confront shoplifters.

“Over the past years, we have taken unprecedented action to tackle retail theft and workplace violence through our Real Public Safety Plan and historic $800 million in funding to support multiple programs improving public safety and cracking down on retail crime,” Newsom wrote. “Senate Bill 553 builds upon these efforts by protecting our workforce, and requires employers to establish, implement, and maintain an effective workplace violence prevention plan, among other provisions.

“Employers are already required to take steps to protect workers from workplace hazards, and this bill strengthens those protections by providing specific guidelines for what employers must do to protect workers from acts or threats of violence at work,” he continued.

In 2021—the most recent year data is available for—California recorded 462 workplace fatal injuries and 450,500 nonfatal occupational injuries. Eighty-seven of those fatalities were related to violence and other injuries by people or animals, according to California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CAL/OSHA).                                                                 

Portions of the law begin to go into effect on 1 July 2024, with all aspects going into effect for most employers with more than 20 employees by 1 January 2025.

How is Workplace Violence Defined?

The new law considers workplace violence to be any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs in a place of employment, including:

  1. 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.

  2. An incident involving a threat or use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, including common objects used as a weapon.

The law explains that employees do not need to be injured for an incident to be considered workplace violence. It also clarifies that workplace violence “does not include lawful acts of self-defense or defense of others,” according to the bill.

Additionally, S.B.533 requires CAL/OSHA to develop and finalize a workplace violence prevention regulation by the end of 2026. The standard must include—at a minimum—the requirements in S.B.533.

California Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) sponsored the legislation, championing it after the 2021 mass shooting at the Valley Transportation Authority railyard.

“S.B. 553 is the result of a months-long negotiation between workers, businesses, and Cal/OSHA,” Cortese said in a statement. “This groundbreaking law will help workers and employers establish a plan for the types of workplace violence that are on the rise.”

What Does S.B. 533 Require?

Under the new law, California employers are required to establish, implement, and maintain an effective workplace violence prevention plan that includes the following elements:

  1. Identifies the people responsible for implementing the program.

  2. A system for identifying and evaluating workplace hazards, including scheduled periodic inspections to identify unsafe conditions and work practices.

  3. Methods and procedures for correcting unsafe or unhealthy conditions and work practices in a timely manner.

  4. An occupational health and safety training program to instruct employees in general safe and healthy work practices.

  5. A system for communicating with employees on occupational health and safety matters, including provisions to encourage reporting of worksite hazards without fear of reprisal.

  6. A system for ensuring employees comply with safe and healthy work practices, including disciplinary action.

  7. Effective procedures to respond to actual or potential workplace violence emergencies, including alerting procedures, evacuation or sheltering plans, and obtaining help from staff assigned to workplace violence emergences—security personnel and law enforcement.

  8. Procedures for post-incident response and investigation.

The law also outlines what type of information should be recorded in workplace violence logs, including date, time, and locations of incidents; the type of violence and incident; a detailed description of the incident; a classification of who committed the violence; circumstances of the incident; consequences of the incident; and information about who completed the logged entry.

Employers must train all employees on the plan and maintain appropriate records of their steps taken to implement and maintain the plan.

Additionally, the law creates the ability for businesses—or labor union leaders—to seek temporary restraining orders against individuals who harm or pose a credible threat of violence to employees. It also creates the ability for employees to maintain anonymity when these orders are filed to protect their privacy.

The orders, if granted by a judge, are effective for a maximum of 21 days and can be renewed for up to three years. Individuals subjected to a restraining order are also prohibited from owning, possessing, purchasing, receiving, or attempting to purchase a firearm or ammunition while the protective order is in effect.

Employers with fewer than 20 employees in industries that are not designated as high-hazard with workers’ compensation experience modification rates of 1.1 or less and employers with fewer than 20 employees in industries designated as low hazard are not subject to all of the criteria of the new law. Instead, SB. 533 requires these employers to have written documentation of the individuals responsible for implementing their workplace violence programs, keeping records of periodic inspections, and keeping records of employee training.

While the new law does not apply to all California businesses, CDF Labor Law’s analysis suggests that all employers should implement workplace violence prevention policies before 1 July 2024.

“Even if your workplace is not covered by the new law, it is a good idea to have a workplace violence prevention plan in place by next July, because most other employers in the state will have one and if a claim is made, you want to be able to point to a policy,” according to the firm’s analysis.