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Training California Employees on Workplace Violence Prevention Plans—No Small Task

A person pulling a gun out of a car glovebox.

​Employers in California have until July 1, 2024, to prepare and train employees on workplace violence prevention plans. Given all that must be done, that date is closer than it sounds. Of all the bills enacted in the state this year, SB 553, which mandated the plans and training, may be the most challenging for employers to meet.

Meeting the July 1 deadline "is not going to be an easy undertaking for employers," said Robert Rodriguez, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Sacramento, Calif. "It will likely require the involvement of many internal stakeholders."

"California was the first state in the nation to pass a workplace violence law of this nature," said Marisa Randazzo, executive director of threat management with Ontic, which provides security software and expertise, and is headquartered in Austin, Texas. She predicted that other states will follow California's lead.

Elements of the Training

The law requires employers to create a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan and train workers on how to follow it. "While training must include instructing employees how to report concerns to their employer and to law enforcement, the required elements go well beyond just reporting," said Michael Johnson, chief strategy officer at Traliant, a provider of online compliance training headquartered in New York City.

Johnson said the training also must cover:

  • The statute's definition of workplace violence.
  • The four types of workplace violence—criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker and personal relationship.
  • The employer's plan.
  • The workplace violence hazards specific to the employees' jobs.
  • How employees can protect themselves in the event of a workplace violence incident.
  • The law's requirement that employees may request to review or copy the employer's records relating to the workplace violence prevention plan, including the violent incident log that the statute requires. The log must include a detailed description of each workplace violence incident and be maintained for five years.

"Employers should focus on ensuring that employees fully understand the meaning of workplace violence, including but not limited to the four workplace violence types," said Ilana Morady, an attorney with Seyfarth in San Francisco. "Without this understanding, employees might assume a narrower meaning of workplace violence and consequently fail to report incidents that should be reported."

For example, an employee who receives a threatening text from their spouse while they are at work needs to know that this might be an incident that should be reported to management.

Employers should consider whether workplace violence concerns can be incorporated into their existing reporting procedures for safety issues and focus on designing procedures that optimize ease and comfort of reporting, Morady added.

Many employers will choose to have different ways for employees to report workplace violence, including in-person reports to managers or HR, a hotline, or potentially an email or online submission method, Rodriguez said.

Managers will need help understanding the breadth of conduct that falls within SB 553 and the information they need to collect, said Joe Beachboard, president of Beachboard Consulting Group in Los Angeles. It's critically important that this information flow up from managers and supervisors to HR—or the person designated as responsible for implementing the workplace violence prevention plan, as is required—so the recording obligations under the new statute are met, he said.

Because the new law requires recording workplace violence incidents in a log that can be examined by employees, employers should explain to workers that personal identifying information will not be included in the log, Morady said. "Employees could otherwise be deterred from reporting," she added.

SB 553's specific training requirements do not differentiate between managers and individual contributors for training purposes, Rodriguez said. "All employees should be provided comprehensive interactive training on all facets of the employer's workplace violence prevention plan, including managers' roles in the plan," he said.

Employees should have a role in the planning process, Johnson said. Their inclusion "is smart because it's likely employees will bring issues to the table that HR, compliance or others may have missed. However, employers should take into account that this process will take more time and that they should plan accordingly," he said.

"Every employee can play a role in keeping the workplace safe," and that should be a key point in the training, Randazzo said. "Any individual employee may be the first person to hear a threat or learn about a potentially violent situation that could impact the workplace."

Employees should be aware not only of what types of workplace threats and violence should be reported and how to report that information, but what happens after they make such a report, she said.

SB 553 requires employers to implement workplace violence prevention plans specific to each work area and operation. "This means an employer with different types of worksites or operations may need to have different procedures specific to those different worksites, including different alert systems," Rodriguez said.

The system for alerting employees should strike a balance between properly communicating when there's a real concern and when there isn't an immediate threat but something employees should be aware of, Johnson said. "It's in no one's best interest to make employees overly anxious by alerting them to threats that are neither concrete nor immediate," he said.

The training must cover how employees should respond, including instructions on evacuation or sheltering, and how to seek help from the employer's security team or from law enforcement, Johnson said.

Other Laws Will Necessitate Training

Managers likely will need training due to other bills enacted into law in California this year, including SB 616, which increases the number of paid sick days from three to five by the 200th calendar day of employment or each calendar year or in each 12-month period. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2024.

The increase in the number of paid sick days from three days to five is the most important training point for managers, said Nina Woodard, president of HR consultancy Nina E. Woodard & Associates in the greater Colorado Springs, Colo., area. Most of the rest of the bill "has to do with accrual, accrual methodology and carryover, which are payroll issues that it is likely the managers and supervisors don't need to get involved in," she said.

Beachboard said managers should be prepared for the possibility of increased use of sick leave and how to plan for staffing shortages.

Managers also should be aware of SB 848, a new bereavement-leave law for reproductive-related loss. "It will be shared in the employee handbook, and managers and supervisors should be aware that it is now an option, so that if they are approached and it is requested, they need to be sure not to indicate otherwise," Woodard said. SB 848 takes effect Jan. 1, 2024.


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