In a significant development for workplace safety, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Senate Bill No. 553 (SB 553) into law on September 30, 2023. This new legislation marks a pivotal change in how California employers must approach workplace violence prevention, and it's important for employers to be aware of its implications and take proactive steps to ensure compliance.
Introduction to SB 553
SB 553 creates a mandatory requirement for employers to create a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP). The WVPP aims to enhance workplace safety and security, ensuring that employees are protected from the risks associated with workplace violence. It is set to go into effect on July 1, 2024.
Understanding the Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP)
The core of SB 553 lies in the Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP), which outlines several crucial components that employers must address:
Responsibility Designation: Employers are now required to designate specific individuals responsible for implementing and maintaining the WVPP.
Employee Involvement: Employers must have procedures which allow employees to play a key role in plan development, training, hazard identification, and reporting incidents.
Law Enforcement Assistance: Employers must also provide employees with access to law enforcement help while strictly prohibiting any form of retaliation against employees seeking such assistance.
Response and Non-Retaliation: The plan enforces procedures for effectively responding to workplace violence incidents and places a strict prohibition against any retaliatory actions taken against employees who report such incidents.
Training: Employers must ensure that training materials are accessible and suitable for all employees based on their educational levels, literacy, and languages.
Risk Assessment: Employers must have procedures to identify and evaluate risk factors for workplace violence.
Timely Hazard Correction: Employers must ensure that workplace violence hazards are addressed promptly minimizes potential risks.
Post-Incident Response and Investigation: The plan includes detailed steps for responding to and investigating workplace violence incidents.
No Employee Confrontation: Employers must adhere to policies that prohibit requiring employees to confront potential threats, such as active shooters or suspected shoplifters.
In addition to implementing the comprehensive prevention plan, employers must maintain a violent incident log. This log should document every incident, post-incident response, and injury investigation in accordance with the WVPP. The information to be recorded includes the date, time, and location of the incident, a detailed description of the incident, the classification of the perpetrator, circumstances at the time of the incident, location of the violence incident, the type of incident (whether it involved physical, verbal, sexual, or animal attacks), consequences of the incident (e.g., whether medical treatment was needed and whether security or law enforcement was contacted), and contact information for the individual completing the violent incident log.
Certain entities are exempt from the WVPP requirement. These include healthcare facilities, facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, law enforcement agencies, teleworking employees, and small employers.
Collective Bargaining and Enforcement
Under the bill, a collective bargaining representative of an employee who has suffered unlawful violence from any individual may seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) and an order after a hearing on behalf of the employee. This mechanism provides additional avenues for addressing workplace violence and ensuring that employees' rights are protected.
Cal/OSHA's Role and Future Standards
Many of SB 553's requirements, including the development of the WVPP, will take effect on July 1, 2024. These requirements will be enforced by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). Cal/OSHA is also tasked with proposing standards for the WVPP by December 1, 2025. By December 31, 2026, the Standards Board is expected to adopt these standards, further shaping the landscape of workplace violence prevention in California.
Conclusion and Preparing for the Future
We encourage California employers to proactively ensure compliance with the WVPP before the July 1, 2024 deadline. This proactive approach is not only essential for safeguarding employees and creating safer work environments but also for ensuring legal compliance.
Even if your workplace is not covered by the new law, it's a good idea to have a workplace violence prevention plan in place by next July. Most other employers in the state will have one, and having a clear policy in place can be advantageous in case of any claims or disputes. Employers who wish to stay ahead of the curve should seek guidance from legal experts familiar with these matters.