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California’s New Workplace Violence Prevention Law: The Path to Compliance

man taking a gun out of the glove compartment of a car

California has enacted a new workplace violence prevention law, SB 553/California Labor Code Section 6401.9, requiring nearly all California employers to develop and implement a written workplace violence prevention plan, provide annual training on the plan to employees, and maintain a log of incidents of workplace violence. Employers have only until July 1 to develop and implement the plan as well as provide the first round of training.

The law is the first of its kind in the U.S. and signifies important progress in enhancing workplace safety. Yet, developing a compliant plan, as well as implementing proper training, will take time. To meet the July deadline, California employers need to start preparations now as a proper plan requires working with different stakeholders, performing a workplace violence hazard assessment, and establishing procedures for violent incident response and investigation as well as for employee compliance.

There are three important aspects of SB 553 that employers need to consider: 1) coordinating compliance with other employers; 2) determining which employees should be involved in plan development and receive training; and 3) addressing certain required plan elements, like assessing workplace violence hazards.

Here are some tips and recommendations to help employers ensure compliance with this new law.

Coordinating Compliance with Other Employers

Under the law, those in a multiple-employer setting are required to coordinate implementation of the plan with other employers to ensure that everyone, including employees, understands their respective roles under the plan. These employers should ensure that all employees receive training and that workplace violence incidents involving any employee are reported, investigated and recorded in a workplace violence incident log.

This requirement could apply in several situations, including:

  • An employer leasing space in an office building would need to coordinate with the property owner and other employers in the building.
  • Employers that use temporary employees from a staffing agency would need to coordinate with the agency.
  • Employers in the construction industry would need to coordinate with the site owner, general contractor and any subcontractors.

The employers would need to jointly determine which employees are involved in plan development, which employers are responsible for training specific employees, which employer investigates reports of workplace violence hazards or concerns, and which employer maintains the incident log.

Involving Employees in Plan Development

The law requires employers to offer covered employees an opportunity to be involved in the development and implementation of the plan. Further, they must train these employees. While the law exempts remote employees, a best practice is to involve all employees in plan development and training, as a primary objective of the law is to proactively determine workplace violence hazards prior to a violent incident occurring.

Including all employees is important, as a remote employee might have useful ideas about workplace violence hazards that might have otherwise been overlooked. As to training, these employees also need to know how to spot behaviors of concern for workplace violence, how to report concerns and what to do if violence occurs in the workplace. If these employees visit their employer’s premises, these tools would become even more essential so that they know how to properly recognize, report and respond to a potential or imminent workplace violence incident.

Providing training to remote supervisors is also particularly important. All managers, despite their work arrangement, should be prepared to answer questions from employees about workplace violence issues and processes. Supervisors, even if remote, may also have more insight into workplace violence concerns as they often interact with more people than their direct reports do. This puts a supervisor in a better position to identify workplace violence risks from a particularly angry client or from an employee who is showing increased volatility.

Determining Plan Elements and Procedures

SB 553 requires that the plan include procedures for: 1) identifying and evaluating workplace violence hazards; 2) responding to an actual or potential workplace violence emergency; and 3) ensuring employee compliance with the plan.

Procedures to identify and evaluate workplace violence hazards must include periodic inspections of the worksite to spot unsafe conditions or practices as well as to compile employee reports and concerns. To meet this requirement, employers should consider a method, such as a survey, to collect employee feedback on workplace violence.

Employers should also consider including procedures to identify environmental risk factors that may increase the risk of a violent incident. Some of these factors are employees:

  • Working with volatile customers.
  • Working alone or in isolated areas.
  • Exchanging money with the public.
  • Working where alcohol is served.
  • Working in premises lacking escape routes.

The plan also needs procedures for how best to respond to workplace violence emergencies.  These include methods to warn employees when an incident is imminent, contacting law enforcement or other security personnel, and evacuation or sheltering protocols. Employers also must establish support resources for employees following a violent incident. This includes providing immediate care to employees who have been injured, making trauma counseling available, conducting post-incident debriefing as soon as possible and reviewing the possible causes of the incident.

There need to be procedures that ensure employee compliance with the plan. These can involve periodically evaluating employee compliance, recognizing employees who follow the employer’s workplace violence prevention practices and disciplining employees who don’t. These procedures should also include additional training for employees whose compliance is deficient.

While SB 553 is a proactive strategy by California to enhance the safety of employees, it has created urgency for employers to develop and implement a plan and provide training. Employers that start the process now will be better prepared to prevent workplace violence and avoid the costs that go with it.

Michael W. Johnson, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney, is the chief strategy officer at Traliant, headquartered in New York City. Bailey Whitsitt is compliance counsel at Traliant.


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