A new law recently enacted in California requires employers to implement a workplace violence prevention plan and could prove influential if other states follow suit.
On Sept. 30, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 553 into law, requiring nearly all businesses to have their plans in place by July 1, 2024. Exempted from the law are employers already covered under the Workplace Violence Healthcare standard Cal/OSHA 3342, Department of Corrections and law enforcement agencies, and businesses with 10 or fewer employees who do not meet the public.
The law mandates that employers create, implement, and maintain an effective workplace violence prevention plan that:
- Establishes workplace violence-specific policies and procedures
- Establishes systems for reporting violent incidents and threats
- Provides interactive annual training on the prevention plan
- Maintains a violent incident log
- Files workplace violence restraining orders
- Keeps records related to the plan
Hector Alvarez, MSPSy, CTM, president of Alvarez Associates, says the law is breaking new ground. “Other than healthcare-specific workplace violence standards, this is the first in the nation that’s general industry,” he notes, adding that he believes other states will follow suit.
Previously, there was nothing like this law on the books in California, except for laws specifically targeting violence in healthcare, says Alvarez. After two shooting incidents at California farms in January that left seven workers dead, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) used the General Duty Clause and issued 41 separate citations against the two farms where the violence took place.
The citations were for failure to evaluate and recognize the hazard and not having a mechanism to alert the employees about that emergency. “And we definitely saw those elements make their way into the bill,” he adds.
Asked how California businesses should prepare to comply with the law, Alvarez says, “Very seriously. … When I take a look and I go item by item [looking] at the issues that need to be addressed for compliance, even one or two of them are daunting.”
Alvarez says the training must be interactive and developed by somebody knowledgeable about the plan, which means an off-the-shelf canned program isn’t going to work.
Reaction to the law has been mixed, Alvarez says. Several of his clients have noted that they have many of the prevention plan elements in place, but they’re just not put together in one document.
“We have other people who believe very strongly they have no exposure to workplace violence, don’t understand the foundation of the standard, and are trying to figure out the implications of not doing it right away,” he notes. “The majority of people are taking this seriously and are trying to comply with it.”
California employers shouldn’t expect Cal/OSHA to show up unannounced looking for proof of a workplace violence prevention plan, Alvarez says.
“I don’t anticipate there’s going to be a huge enforcement unless there’s an incident. If there’s an incident, I think Cal/OSHA’s going to show up and do an investigation and I don’t think there will be any leeway,” he says. “Unless you do one of the voluntary consultations with Cal/OSHA, I don’t think anybody’s going to show up and see if you’ve got it. However, I do feel employees are more aware of the requirements, so I think either a complaint or an incident is going to have someone knocking on your door.”
An earlier version of the bill had a provision that called out retail stores and said employees could not be required to be involved in loss prevention, says Alvarez. Under that provision, “if someone was shoplifting, our cashier could not be required to stop them or interfere. It sounded like the bill was giving a free pass to shoplift.”
Another provision required all businesses to conduct active shooter training, but that and the loss prevention provision were taken out of the final bill, he adds.
Will This Law Be Effective?
“Yes. Will it be effective for everybody? No,” Alvarez says. “The nuanced pieces in this are you have to be able to recognize what the hazard is and then respond appropriately. Everything else around it comes down to those two things.”
Alvarez recommends becoming an expert in recognizing the four categories of violence: violence with criminal intent, customer violence, violence from a current or past co-worker, and violence committed in the workplace by someone with a personal relationship with an employee.
Alvarez gives the following advice to California employers:
- Pull a team together. This is far too broad a responsibility for one person. Get your safety person involved, as well as Human Resources.
- A violent incident log needs to be kept but you must maintain privacy.
- The legal team should make sure that policies capture not just intention, but in a way that you can get things accomplished.
- You must show that employees had a hand in identifying hazards.
Jay Kumar is the editor-in-chief of EHS Daily Advisor, a sister publication of Facilities Management Advisor.