Understanding California’s Workplace Violence Prevention Bill

Data from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicates that acts of violence in the workplace are the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries among employees throughout the country. Unfortunately, occurrences are only increasing, jumping from 761 fatal workplace violence incidents in 2021 to 860 in 2022.

Clearly, workplace violence is a serious issue affecting many employees. Unfortunately, it often goes unaddressed at the federal and state levels. Those who feel strongly about this problem will be pleased to know that the California legislature has decided to address the issue head-on.

On September 30, 2023, Senate Bill 553 became law. An amendment to the current labor code, the new law requires employers to write, publish, and implement a workplace violence prevention plan. Employers must also commit to training employees annually and keeping a log of all workplace violence incidents.

There is little doubt that this will create an added administrative burden for HR professionals. However, each legislator hopes that holding employers accountable for reducing violence and providing harmed employees with pathways for reporting and remedying it will be a step toward eradicating workplace violence altogether.

Employer Requirements Prior to the Passage of SB 553

California’s new workplace violence prevention law is an amendment to California Labor Code 6401.7. Previously, this code dealt only with preventing workplace injuries and illnesses. It required employers to do the following:

  • Create and maintain a written illness and injury prevention program
  • Provide OSHA training to help employees understand the program
  • Identify, evaluate, and correct workplace hazards in a timely manner
  • Establish a system for employees to report potential hazards
  • Ensure daily compliance with all workplace safety regulations

There was no mention of workplace violence in any of these provisions. This is why Senate Bill 553 is so significant. With this new amendment, violence is now recognized as a legitimate workplace hazard, and employers must address it according to legal guidelines.

How the Workplace Violence Prevention Bill Empowers Employers

Although SB 553 has significant compliance requirements, it does have provisions that empower employers. First, instead of detailing a cookie-cutter approach, it allows employers to create and maintain their own violence prevention plan. Your HR team can come up with a plan that takes your unique company culture into account, provided that the plan is compliant.

Additionally, the law requires employers to include covered employees in the development of the violence prevention plan. Though some may view this as cumbersome, employers who value their workforce understand how this can improve employee morale and engagement and increase compliance with the new law.

Compliance Requirements for Workplace Violence Prevention

California’s workplace violence prevention law (SB 533) becomes effective on July 1, 2024, which means your workplace must be in full compliance at that time. If you’re like other employers, you may currently be feeling the time crunch when it comes to ensuring all components are in place. For those working diligently, here is an overview of what employers need to do before the deadline:

Create a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan

Your workplace violence prevention plan (WVPP) must detail your evaluation of potential hazards, your emergency response plan in the event of an incident, and your plan to keep employees compliant. Your plan for identifying hazards should include your method of inspection and your policy for responding to employee concerns.

To be fully compliant, you must allow employees to have input on the plan you create. If you are in a multi-employer workplace, you must also include information on how you will coordinate the plan with other employers.

Train Employees on the New Plan

Employers must provide employees with training in accordance with their language and reading levels when implementing the prevention plan. This training should help employees familiarize themselves with the plan, understand how to report violent incidents, know who they can go to for support, and learn about the prevention of violence hazards.

Note that this employee training requirement is ongoing. Training should be conducted regularly and must happen upon discovering new violence hazards or implementing changes to the plan.

Keep a Violent Incident Log

You must record all workplace violence incidents in a log and maintain them in an accessible manner. This law also requires recordkeeping for workplace violence hazard identification and correction, employee training records, and violent incident investigations. Training records must be maintained for one year, while all other records must be kept for a minimum of five years.

Remember the Reason for the Law

As an HR professional, you know that creating a thriving work environment means doing your very best to protect and support your workforce. As you put in the time to prepare for Senate Bill 553 to take effect on July 1, 2024, it’s important to remember the reason for this work.

Your violence prevention plan, training modules, and reporting pathways all work together to ensure that your employees feel safe in the office. That sense of safety not only boosts your employees’ morale but also lets them know how much you care about their well-being.