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Implementing Your California Workplace Violence Prevention Plan

The Scope of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence can range from verbal threats and intimidation to physical assaults and even homicide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), 761 of the 5,333 workplace fatalities that occurred in the United States in 2019 were caused by violence or other injury by another person or animal. In 2022, fatal injuries due to violence increased by a staggering 11.6 percent, reaching 849 incidents. Of these, 541 were homicides.


These alarming statistics underscore the importance of implementing effective workplace violence prevention measures. Employers have a legal and moral obligation to provide a safe work environment for their employees. Failure to carry out a plan can result in severe consequences regarding employee well-being and legal liability.


The impact of workplace violence extends far beyond the immediate physical and emotional harm to the victims. It can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, higher turnover rates, and substantial financial costs for employers regarding medical expenses, legal fees, and lost productivity. Moreover, the psychological effects of workplace violence can be long-lasting, affecting employees' mental health, job satisfaction, and overall well-being.


Recognizing the severity of this issue, California has taken a proactive approach by enacting SB 553, which requires employers to develop and implement comprehensive WVPPs to identify, assess, and mitigate the risks of workplace violence.

What Is Workplace Violence?

Under Labor Code section 6401.9, workplace violence is the act or threat of violence in a workplace. This encompasses various scenarios:

  • Physical force or threats resulting in injury, psychological distress, or stress to an employee.

  • Incidents involving firearms, dangerous weapons, or the use of ordinary objects as weapons, regardless of injury occurrence.

​The definition excludes acts of lawful self-defense or defense of others.


In California, workplace violence is a significant concern. In 2021, 57 individuals in the state lost their lives due to such incidents. Nationally, between 2015 and 2019, an average of 1.3 million nonfatal violent crimes occurred annually in workplaces.


Types of workplace violence, outlined in Labor Code section 6401.9, encompass four main categories:

  • Type 1 Violence: Violence by individuals without legitimate business on-site, including robberies and threats aimed at employees such as janitors or security guards.

  • Type 2 Violence: Violence directed at employees by clients, customers, patients, students, or visitors, often seen in social welfare offices or educational institutions.

  • Type 3 Violence: Violence against an employee by a current or former employee, supervisor, or manager, often motivated by perceived workplace injustices.

  • Type 4 Violence: Violence by individuals with personal relationships to an employee but not employed there, posing risks like those in Type 3, yet stemming from external relationships.

Workplaces may encounter multiple types of violence, heightening the need for comprehensive prevention strategies. For instance, retail stores vulnerable to Type 1 events like robberies may face Type 3 events due to employee personal disputes.

Who Needs to Comply?

The new workplace violence prevention law applies to "all employers, employees, places of employment, and employer-provided housing," with the following specific exemptions:

  • Healthcare facilities and employers are covered by California's existing workplace prevention standard for the healthcare industry (Title 8, California Code of Regulations, Section 3342)

  • Facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

  • Certain law enforcement agencies

  • Teleworkers

  • Places of employment that are not accessible to the public and have fewer than ten employees working at a location at a given time

Employers who fall outside these exemptions must comply with the new law by July 1, 2024, or face potential enforcement actions, including inspections, citations, and penalties from the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).


It is important to note that while the law provides specific exemptions, all employers have a general duty to provide their employees with a safe and healthful workplace under the California Occupational Safety and Health Act. Even exempt employers should consider implementing workplace violence prevention measures to protect their employees and minimize potential liability.

Critical Components of a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan

Under SB 553, employers must develop and implement a written WVPP tailored to each workplace. The plan must address the specific hazards of every work area and operation and identify appropriate corrective actions to mitigate those hazards. Employers are required to review their WVPP at least annually and any time a deficiency is observed or following a workplace violence incident.

A comprehensive WVPP must include the following elements:

Responsible Parties

The names or job titles of the individuals responsible for implementing and maintaining the plan

Employee Involvement

Procedures to obtain the active involvement of employees and their representatives in developing, implementing, and reviewing the plan, including hazard identification, training, and incident reporting.​

Coordination with Other Employers

Methods the employer will use to coordinate the plan's implementation with other employers, as applicable (e.g., at multi-employer worksites).

Incident Reporting and Response

Procedures for the employer to respond to workplace violence reports and prohibit retaliation against employees who report incidents or concerns


Procedures to ensure that both supervisory and nonsupervisory employees comply with the plan.


Procedures to communicate with employees regarding workplace violence matters, including how to report incidents, how concerns will be investigated, how employees will be informed of the results, and any corrective actions taken.

Emergency Response

Procedures to respond to workplace emergencies, including means to alert employees of emergencies, evacuation or sheltering plans, and how to obtain help from designated emergency response staff or law enforcement.


​Procedures for providing workplace violence prevention training to employees.

Hazard Identification and Correction

Procedures to identify, evaluate, and correct workplace violence hazards, including scheduled inspections.​

Post-Incident Response and Investigation

Procedures for responding to and investigating workplace violence incidents

Plan Review and Revision

Procedures for reviewing and revising the plan's effectiveness as needed.

These components form the foundation of a comprehensive WVPP, ensuring employers have a well defined, systematic approach to preventing and responding to workplace violence incidents.

Assessing Organizational Risk Factors

In addition to individual warning signs, employers must assess organizational risk factors that may contribute to workplace violence. Employers can create a safer and more secure work environment by identifying and mitigating these risk factors.

Common organizational risk factors include:

High-stress work environments

Workplaces characterized by excessive workloads, tight deadlines, and poor communication can create a breeding ground for conflict and frustration. Employers should strive to manage stress levels and promote a healthy work-life balance.

Lack of Support Resources

Employees who feel unsupported or lack access to mental health resources may be more prone to experiencing emotional distress. Providing comprehensive employee assistance programs (EAPs) and promoting a culture of support can help mitigate this risk factor.

Inadequate Security Measures

Workplaces with insufficient security measures, such as lack of access controls, poor lighting, or inadequate surveillance systems, may be more vulnerable to incidents of violence. Conducting regular security assessments and implementing appropriate measures can help deter potential threats.

Ineffective Conflict Resolution

Organizations that lack effective conflict resolution mechanisms or have a history of unresolved conflicts may be at a higher risk of workplace violence. Providing training on conflict resolution skills and establishing clear procedures for addressing disputes can help prevent the escalation of conflicts.

Once hazards have been identified and assessed, employers must develop and implement appropriate corrective measures to minimize the risk of workplace violence. These measures may include:

  • Implementing physical security measures, such as access controls, lighting improvements, and surveillance systems

  • Establishing policies and procedures for responding to and reporting violent incidents

  • Providing training to employees on recognizing and responding to potential threats

  • Encouraging open communication and a culture of safety throughout the organization

Regularly reviewing and updating the hazard assessment is crucial to ensure that the WVPP effectively addresses evolving risks and new hazards that may emerge over time.

Developing a Comprehensive Prevention Plan

To comply with SB 553 and effectively reduce the risk of workplace violence, California employers must develop a comprehensive prevention plan around their unique needs and vulnerabilities. A well-designed plan should encompass various elements to ensure a holistic approach to workplace safety.

Common organizational risk factors include:

Clear Policies and Procedures

The foundation of a strong prevention plan lies in clear and well-communicated policies and procedures. Employers should establish written policies that define workplace violence, outline prohibited behaviors, and specify the consequences of policy violations. These policies should be reviewed regularly to reflect legislation and best practice changes.

Employee Training and Awareness

Regular employee training is essential for promoting awareness of workplace violence prevention and equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to identify and respond to potential threats. Training topics should include:

  • Recognizing warning signs of potential violence

  • De-escalation techniques and conflict resolution skills

  • Proper incident reporting procedures

  • Emergency response protocols

  • Bystander intervention strategies

Training should be provided to all employees, including supervisors and managers, and conducted regularly to ensure ongoing awareness and preparedness.

Incident Reporting and Investigation

A streamlined incident reporting process is critical for promptly identifying and addressing workplace violence concerns. Employers should establish a reporting system that allows employees to report incidents or concerns confidentially without fear of retaliation. The reporting process should include clear guidelines for investigating reports, documenting findings, and taking appropriate corrective actions.

Threat Assessment and Risk Management

Employers should develop a well-defined threat assessment protocol to evaluate the severity and credibility of potential threats. This protocol should involve a multidisciplinary team, including representatives from human resources, legal, security, and mental health professionals (as needed). The team should be trained to conduct thorough assessments, develop risk management strategies, and implement appropriate interventions.

Crisis Response and Recovery

Despite prevention efforts, incidents of workplace violence may still occur. Employers should establish a comprehensive crisis response plan to minimize employee impact and ensure a swift and effective response. The plan should include:


  • Emergency communication protocols

  • Evacuation procedures and designated safe areas

  • Coordination with local law enforcement and emergency services

  • Provision of medical care and emotional support for affected employees

  • Post-incident debriefing and counseling services


Regularly reviewing and practicing the crisis response plan through drills and tabletop exercises can help all employees be prepared to respond effectively in the event of an actual incident.

Model Workplace Violence Prevention Plan Template

To assist employers in developing their WVPPs, Cal/OSHA has published a fillable model WVPP template. While employers are not required to use this specific template and may create their plan, use another template, or incorporate workplace violence prevention into their existing Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) as a separate section, the model template serves as a valuable resource.

The model template includes the following sections:

1. Workplace Violence Prevention Policy
2. Definitions of Workplace Violence
3. Responsibilities
4. Hazard Identification and Assessment
5. Incident Reporting and Investigation
6. Hazard Correction
7. Training and Instruction
8. Recordkeeping
9. Review and Update of Plan

If fully completed by an employer, the Cal/OSHA template should satisfy an inspector's inquiries during a compliance inspection. However, it is essential to note that the template goes beyond the minimum requirements of the new law in some aspects. For example, it includes reporting obligations associated with severe injuries or deaths that are work-related or occur at the workplace, which are not explicitly required under Labor Code section 6401.9.


Employers should carefully consider the tradeoffs when using the template. They may find excellent value in using the model plan as a starting point, tailoring it to their specific needs, and ensuring compliance with the new law's obligations. By customizing the template to address their unique work environments, hazards, and employee populations, employers can develop a more effective and targeted WVPP.

Violent Incident Logs

Starting on July 1, 2024, employers must maintain a violent incident log for every occurrence of workplace violence. The log must include detailed information about each incident, such as:

1. Date and time of the incident
2. Detailed description of the event
3. Classification of the perpetrator (e.g., customer, stranger, co-worker, partner, or spouse)
4. Circumstances at the time of the incident
5. Location of the incident
6. Consequences of the incident, including whether law enforcement was contacted and the employer's actions  to protect against a continuing threat
7. Information about the person who completed the log entry

Additionally, logs must identify the specific type of incident from four statutorily prescribed categories:

  • Violence against an employee committed by someone who has no legitimate business at the worksite

  • Violence against an employee committed by a customer, patient, or visitor

  • Violence against an employee by a current or former employee

  • Violence committed by a non-employee who has a personal relationship with an employee

It is important to note that acts of self-defense or defense of others are excluded from the "workplace violence" definition for the violent incident log.

Legal Considerations and Compliance

Creating and executing a workplace violence prevention plan involves understanding and adhering to various federal and state regulations. In addition to complying with SB 553, California employers must also consider the following legal obligations

OSHA General Duty Clause

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA) requires employers to provide a safe and healthful work environment free from recognized hazards, including workplace violence. Failure to address warning signs or implement adequate prevention measures can result in citations and penalties under the General Duty Clause.


Anti-Discrimination Laws

Employers must ensure that workplace violence prevention efforts do not discriminate against any protected classes or violate anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Prevention strategies should be applied consistently and fairly across the organization.


Privacy and Confidentiality

When conducting investigations or providing support services, employers must respect employee privacy rights and maintain confidentiality by applicable laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and state-specific privacy regulations


Recordkeeping Requirements

Employers must maintain accurate records of workplace violence incidents, investigations, corrective actions, and training sessions in compliance with SB 553 and other applicable laws. These records should be securely stored and readily accessible for regulatory agencies and internal stakeholders to review.

To follow compliance with all relevant legal requirements, employers should consult with experienced legal counsel in workplace safety and employment law. Attorneys can guide developing legally compliant policies, conducting investigations, and responding to incidents in a manner that minimizes legal risk.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Cal/OSHA will enforce the new law through its standard inspection, citation, and penalty framework. Depending on the nature of an alleged violation, potential penalties may be significant:


  • Violations classified as "serious" may result in penalties of up to $25,000

  • Violations classified as "willful" may result in penalties of up to $153,744


In addition to monetary penalties, Cal/OSHA will require employers deemed out of compliance to abate alleged violations to the agency's satisfaction. This may include mandating changes to employers' policies and procedures.


To avoid these penalties and follow compliance with the new law, employers should take proactive steps to develop and implement comprehensive WVPPs, maintain accurate records, and provide appropriate employee training.

Employee Training 

Employers must provide workplace violence prevention training to employees when the WVPP is initially established and annually thereafter. The training must cover a wide range of topics, including:

1. The employer's WVPP, including how to obtain a copy
2. How to participate in the development and implementation of the plan
3. Definitions and requirements of Senate Bill 553
4. How to report incidents and concerns
5. Workplace violence hazards specific to the employee's job and the corrective measures implemented by the employer
6. Requirements for the violent incident log and how to obtain copies as permitted by the statute
7. An opportunity for interactive discussion

In addition to the initial and annual training, employers must provide supplemental training when a new or previously unrecognized workplace violence hazard is identified or when changes are made to the WVPP.

Recordkeeping Requirements

Under the new law, employers must maintain the following records:

  • Records of workplace violence hazard identification, evaluation, and correction (five years)

  • Workplace violence incident investigations (five years)

  • Violent incident logs (five years) 

  • Training records (one year)

All WVPP records required under the statute must be available to Cal/OSHA upon request. Employees and their representatives are entitled to records reflecting hazard identification, evaluation, and correction, as well as violent incident logs, within 15 days of a written request.


Employers should establish a systematic recordkeeping approach, designating specific individuals or departments responsible for maintaining and updating the required records. Records should be stored securely and organized for easy retrieval and review.

Continuous Improvement and Plan Review

Maintaining an effective workplace violence prevention plan requires ongoing effort and continuous improvement. Employers should regularly review and update their plans to remain relevant and effective in addressing evolving risks and challenges. The continuous improvement process should involve:

  • Conducting periodic risk assessments to identify new or emerging hazards

  • Analyzing incident data and trends to identify areas for improvement

  • Seeking employee feedback and suggestions through surveys, focus groups, and open forums

  • Updating policies, procedures, and training content based on best practices and regulatory changes

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of prevention and response efforts through performance metrics and benchmarking

Employers can create a safer workplace and show their ongoing commitment to employee wellbeing by embracing a mindset of continuous improvement.

Get Assistance with Your Workplace Violence Prevention Plan 

Workplace violence is a severe concern that demands proactive attention from California employers. With the enactment of SB 553, organizations now have a legal obligation to establish, implement, and maintain comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans to protect their employees from potential harm.


Developing an effective prevention plan involves understanding the scope of workplace violence, recognizing warning signs, assessing organizational risk factors, and implementing a range of strategies, including transparent policies, employee training, incident reporting, threat assessment, and crisis response.


As California employers face this critical issue, the experienced Cal/OSHA attorneys at Conn Maciel Carey LLP stand ready to provide guidance and support in developing and implementing comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans. With our help, organizations can take proactive steps to protect the safety and well-being of their employees while maintaining compliance with SB 553 and other relevant laws.

We offer comprehensive workplace violence prevention services to help California employers create safer and more compliant workplaces through:

  • Customized written workplace violence prevention plans tailored to your organization's unique needs and risk factors

  • Engaging and informative training materials for employees, supervisors, and managers

  • Thorough gap assessments of existing policies and procedures to identify areas for improvement

  • Consultation and guidance on legal compliance, incident response, and program implementation

Don't wait until it's too late. Contact Conn Maciel Carey LLP today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards creating a safer, more secure workplace for your employees. Together, we can work towards a future where workplace violence is effectively prevented, and every employee can feel safe and protected on the job.

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