California Bill Targets Workplace Violence

Leah Shepherd By Leah Shepherd September 27, 2023

Editor's Note: Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the workplace violence prevention bill on Sept. 30.

The California Legislature recently passed a bill that would require employers to adopt workplace violence prevention plans, maintain records of any threats or incidents of workplace violence, and provide effective training to workers on violence prevention. The bill has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, but he hasn't signed it yet.

"I expect the governor will sign it," said Kacey Riccomini, an attorney with Thompson Coburn in Los Angeles.

Employers would have to establish a written workplace violence prevention plan that includes:

  • The name and/or job title of the person responsible for implementing the program.
  • Procedures for the employer to receive and respond to reports of workplace violence, as well as to prohibit retaliation against an employee who makes such a report.
  • Information about how an employee can report a violent incident, threat or other concern to their employer or law enforcement without fear of reprisal.
  • Methods to alert employees of the presence, location and nature of workplace violence emergencies.
  • Evacuation or sheltering plans that are appropriate and feasible for the worksite.
  • Information about how employee concerns will be investigated and how employees will be informed of the results of the investigation.
  • Procedures to obtain the active involvement of employees in developing and implementing the violence prevention plan.
  • Procedures to review the effectiveness of the violence prevention plan and revise it as needed.

Employers have "to be really transparent with employees in how they do this," said Marisa Randazzo, executive director of threat management at Ontic, an Austin, Texas-based provider of software that companies use to manage threats and mitigate risks.

Make it easy for employees to tell managers about any threats or incidents of violence, Randazzo recommended. "That is an absolutely necessary component. Managers can't do anything if they don't know about it. [Threats] have to be taken seriously. There has to be some sort of investigation or response done," she said.

Employers should train workers on "red-flag behaviors" and ways to de-escalate heated situations, Riccomini said. If a credible threat of violence occurs, the bill would allow a supervisor or union representative to apply for a temporary restraining order on behalf of an employee without using the employee's name in the report. That provision is slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2025.

"By incorporating workplace violence prevention into an overall safety and health or compliance program, employers can show their commitment to employees' well-being and the creation of a fair, safe and compliant workplace," said Michael Johnson, chief strategy officer at Traliant, a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based firm that provides workplace compliance training courses.

Warning Signs

It's often possible to prevent workplace violence because many potential perpetrators talk about their plans on social media or with friends and co-workers before anything happens, Randazzo said. They also might collect weapons, ammunition and other gear to implement their plans.

"There are oftentimes precursor behaviors" that give you some warning "and allow an employer to step in and take protective action," Randazzo said. "Many of [the perpetrators] are actively suicidal."

Sometimes, employees are killed or injured at their workplace because their partner or former partner knows how to find them there. There's a higher rate of workplace violence in health care facilities, late-night convenience stores, taxis and ride-hailing services, and customer service offices where there might be customers angered over something like utility bills or parking tickets, Randazzo said.

Employers need to start by identifying all of the risk factors typical of the industry, with special consideration for all of the individual roles that staff hold and the nuances that come with each of those, Johnson said.

"Employers should introduce and continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence that covers all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors and anyone else who may be in the workplace or encounter company personnel, even if the contact is mostly or solely remote," he said.

Log of All Reports of Violence or Threats

If the bill is enacted, employers will have to keep a log of all reports of violence or threats and what they did about it, starting July 1, 2024. The log should not contain any personally identifiable information.

"It will give California employers a chance to look at trends in their own organization," Randazzo said. "It's going to be really important for long-term violence prevention efforts."

Employers can be fined if they don't keep the log properly, she noted.

The log "could be looked at by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration or might be part of discovery in a lawsuit," Riccomini said.



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