On September 30, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 553, creating new workplace violence prevention standards in California. The law consists of the first general industry workplace violence prevention requirement in the United States. Under the law—specifically Labor Code Section 6401.9—California employers must implement workplace violence prevention plans tailored to their specific workplaces. By no later than July 1, 2024, employers must develop such plans, as well as annual workplace violence prevention training, a violence incident log intended to record details of violent workplace incidents or threats, and procedures to respond to actual or potential workplace violence emergencies.
The requirements of Section 6401.9 for establishment of a workplace violence prevention plan apply to all employers and employees in California, with a few limited exceptions: (i) employers and healthcare facilities already covered by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) Violence Prevention in Health Care standard; (ii) employees who telework from a location of the employees’ choice that isn’t under the control of the employer; (iii) locations not open to the public where fewer than 10 employees work at a given time (if in compliance with injury and illness prevention regulations); and (iv) facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and other law enforcement agencies.
Requiring Comprehensive Programs
Employers must “establish, implement, and maintain, at all times in all work areas, an effective workplace violence prevention plan” for purposes of protecting employees and other personnel from aggressive and violent behavior at the workplace. This includes a mandate that employers provide employees with training annually on the employers’ plan, how to recognize workplace violence hazards specific to the employees’ jobs, how to seek assistance to prevent or respond to violence, and strategies to avoid physical harm. Training records must be maintained for at least 1 year.
Specifically, workplace violence prevention plans must include the following:
- How to obtain the active involvement of employees and employee representatives in developing and implementing the plan;
- Methods the employer will use to coordinate implementation of the plan with other employers to ensure those employers and employees understand their respective roles;
- How the employer will accept and respond to reports of workplace violence and to prohibit retaliation against an employee who makes such a report;
- How an employee can report a violent incident, a threat, or another workplace violence concern to the employer or law enforcement without fear of reprisal;
- How employee concerns will be investigated and how employees will be informed of the results of the investigation and any corrective actions to be taken;
- The means 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;
- How to obtain help from staff assigned to respond to workplace violence emergencies, security personnel, or law enforcement;
- Procedures for post-incident response and investigation;
- How to identify and evaluate workplace violence hazards, including “scheduled periodic inspections to identify unsafe conditions and work practices and employee reports and concerns”; and
- How to review the effectiveness of the plan and revise the plan as needed.
Violence Incident Log
Additionally, employers are required to record every incident of workplace violence—defined as any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs in a place of employment—in an incident log, including (i) the date, time, and location of the incident; (ii) a detailed description of the incident and who committed the violence; (iii) the type of violence, including whether it was a physical attack or threat, whether weapons or other objects were involved, or whether it was a sexual assault; (iv) and consequences of the incident, including whether security or law enforcement was contacted and whether actions were taken to protect employees from a continuing threat.
Employers must retain the log for 5 years and omit personal identifying information. Employees are entitled to view and copy the log within 15 calendar days of a request.
Implications for Employers
Because SB 553 will soon become law, it’s imperative for employers in California to familiarize themselves with its provisions and take practical measures to comply. Employers must establish and maintain thorough workplace violence prevention programs, conduct training, and establish reporting mechanisms, among other things. Given the extensive requirements under the statute, employers should take immediate action to ensure they have a compliant plan in place before July 1, 2024.
Roland Juarez is a partner with Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. He can be reached at rjuarez@HuntonAK.com.
Michael A. Pearlson is an associate with the firm in Los Angeles. He may be reached at mpearlson@HuntonAK.com.