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Understanding California SB 553 - For Employers

Senate Bill (SB) 553 is a piece of legislation that modified California Labor Code section 6401.7 when it was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. This legislation, introduced by Senator Dave Cortese, aims to curb the increasing incidents of serious workplace violence in the state. Sen. Cortese proposed the law in response to a devastating work-related massacre that occurred at the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) railyard in San Jose, California, on May 26, 2021.

 

When the new law goes into effect on July 1, 2024, it will require California employers to establish and implement workplace violence prevention plans. Let’s take a closer look at the specifics of SB 553, how it applies to California employers, and what your business must do to comply with it.

Which Employers Are Subject to the New Requirements?

Nearly all California employers will be subject to the new requirements for workplace violence prevention plans. However, SB 553 doesn’t apply to everyone. Exemptions exist for the following:

 

  • Healthcare facilities

  • Prisons run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)

  • Law enforcement agencies that meet specific training and safety standards

  • Teleworking or work-from-home employees who choose their own work locations

  • Workplaces with fewer than ten employees working in locations where the public can’t enter (as

long as they meet other safety rules)

Failing to prepare an appropriate workplace violence prevention plan as required by SB 553 in California can mean severe consequences for non-exempt employers. Without a compliant plan in place by July 1, 2024, businesses face potential legal and financial penalties. Non-compliance can lead to citations, tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and increased liability in the event of workplace violence incidents, possibly impacting the organization’s reputation and financial stability.

How Does the New Law Define Workplace Violence?

SB 553 includes a broad definition of workplace violence, which consists of any violence or threat of
violence at work. This can mean anything from physical attacks to threats made over social media and
texts to any behavior that frightens or traumatizes someone for no good reason. The law also
categorizes workplace violence into four main types:

  • Type 1 violence

happens when someone who has no reason to be at the workplace comes in to commit a crime or harm someone. Examples include robberies or violent acts by strangers

  • Type 2 violence

involves customers, clients, patients, students, or visitors attacking or threatening employees. For example, this could be a customer who gets violent because they’re upset about a store policy.

  • Type 3 violence

occurs when one employee threatens or attacks another employee. This includes current and former coworkers

  • Type 4 violence

happens when an individual who doesn’t work for the business but knows an employee comes to the workplace to commit violence. For example, this could be an angry romantic partner visiting a workplace to confront someone.

The law aims to protect workers from all these types of violence, requiring businesses to keep track of violent incidents and make plans to prevent them. Notably, the law does not apply to lawful acts of selfdefense or the defense of others.

What Are the Workplace Violence Prevention Plan Requirements?

SB 553 requires nearly every California employer to establish a robust workplace violence prevention plan, either as a standalone plan or as part of their injury and illness prevention program (IIPP). This isn’t something employers can scribble down, stick in a binder, and forget about. Employers must create and implement these plans with input from their employees. They must also customize the plans for all parts of their businesses, from office spaces to factory floors.

Here’s a high-level overview of what the plans must include.

The Basics

Each plan should clearly state the names and job titles of the employees who are responsible for it. This could include safety officers, human resources managers, or even dedicated teams of employees. Employers should detail each person’s role to avoid any confusion. Everyone should know who to turn to with concerns about workplace safety.

Employee Involvement

Employers should create their plans with the active participation of their employees. This means involving employees in every stage of preparation and implementation, from identifying potential hazards to developing risk reduction strategies. This is to ensure that the plans are practical and in understandable language for everyone involved.

Coordination with Other Employers

On sites shared by multiple employers, such as construction sites, a coordinated approach to violence prevention is necessary to prevent gaps in safety coverage. Multi-employer plans should outline how employers will work together to ensure everyone on-site understands their role in maintaining a safe work environment.

 

Clear Reporting Mechanisms and Protection from Retaliation

Employers must establish straightforward processes for employees to report incidents or threats of workplace violence. Every plan should make clear that the law strictly prohibits retaliation against employees who report incidents of violence or threats of violence in the workplace.

Compliance and Discipline Measures

Employers must ensure their plans outline how they will monitor compliance and the disciplinary consequences they will impose for non-compliance. This is to ensure that everyone takes the plan seriously and follows the established procedures.

Customization for Employers with Multiple Work Sites

A one-size-fits-all approach to violence prevention is insufficient for businesses operating across multiple worksites with their own unique hazards. Customized plans should be tailored to each location’s specific needs and risks. This means conducting a detailed hazard assessment at each site, identifying its risks, and developing site-specific strategies and protocols to address these risks. For instance, a retail outlet might focus on de-escalation techniques for dealing with potentially violent customers, while a manufacturing plant might prioritize safety measures around machinery.

Regular Safety Assessments

Employers should schedule regular inspections and assessments to identify and evaluate potential violence hazards in the workplace. These should be ongoing processes that adapt as the workplace or workforce changes. Employers should involve employees in these inspections for help identifying potential risks and to foster a culture of safety and inclusivity.

Emergency Response and Incident Management Protocol

Employers should detail the steps they will take in the event of a violent incident. This includes how they
will secure the area, provide aid, and report the incident to authorities as necessary. Plans should also
cover how to communicate during an emergency so everyone knows how to get help and information.

Regular Reviews and Updates

Employers must outline how they will regularly review the effectiveness of their violence prevention
plan. This includes analyzing any incidents that occur, feedback from employees, and changes in the
workplace or workforce. Based on these reviews, employers must update their plans to address new
challenges and ensure the plans remain effective.

Training and Education Measures

Employers must provide all employees with comprehensive training on workplace violence prevention
plans. This training should cover how to identify potential hazards, report concerns, and respond in case
of an incident. Employers must implement regular refreshers to keep everyone aware and prepared.

Availability and Accessibility for Employees

Finally, employers should ensure that all employees know where to find and access the violence prevention plan at all times. This could include incorporating an overview of the plan’s location and key elements into the onboarding process for new hires and refresher courses for current employees. Employers can make plans accessible by posting them on company intranets, distributing physical copies, or setting up dedicated safety stations around the workplace.

What Information Must Employers Include in Violent Incident Logs?

Going forward, every California employer will be required to keep a detailed violent incident log for each
workplace violence incident. Entries should cover the following:

  • Basic Incident Information:

Record the incident’s date, time, and specific location to provide a clear timeline and setting for the event.

  • Type of Workplace Violence:

: Identify the type of workplace violence (Type 1, 2, 3, or 4) based on the nature of the incident and the relationship between the perpetrator and the workplace.

  • Incident Details:

Give a detailed account of what happened during the incident. This should include actions, conversations, or threats that occurred, providing a clear picture of each event.

 

  • Perpetrator Classification:

Classify who committed the violence, such as a customer, coworker, or someone with a personal relationship with an employee. This will allow employers and regulations to analyze patterns and potential risks associated with different groups.

  • Circumstances of the Incident: 

Describe the circumstances at the time of the incident, such as whether the employee was performing their regular duties, whether there were appropriate staffing levels, or if the employee was isolated. This can highlight risk factors and areas for improvement in workplace procedures

  • Location Classification:

Note whether the incident occurred within the workplace, in a parking lot, or in another area. Understanding where incidents are most likely to occur can guide security measures and future employee training.

  • Type of Incident:

Specify the nature of the incident, such as whether it involved physical assault (with or without weapons), threats, sexual assault, animal attacks, or other types of violence.

  • Consequences and Response:

Document any contact with security or law enforcement and actions taken to protect employees from future threats. This information is crucial for evaluating the effectiveness of the response and making necessary adjustments.

  •  Log Completion Information:

Include the name, job title, and signature of the person completing the log as well as the date it was finished. This ensures accountability and allows for follow-up if more information is needed.

What Are the New Training Requirements for Employees?

SB 553 requires California employers to provide employees with practical training on the new workplace
violence prevention requirements. The purpose of this training is to ensure all employees know how to
recognize, report, and respond to potential violence in the workplace. All employee training materials
must include the following.

Explanations of the Employer’s Plan

The heart of the training revolves around the employer’s workplace violence prevention plan. Employees must understand not just the existence of this plan but its contents and the specific role they play within it. The training should instruct employees on how to access the plan, whether through the company’s intranet, physical copies in common areas, or direct requests to HR. Training should also highlight the process for employees to contribute to the plan’s development, fostering a collaborative environment where feedback and suggestions are valued and incorporated.

Key Definitions and Requirements

Training should clarify what constitutes workplace violence, the different types (1 through 4), and the legal obligations of employers and employees under SB 553. This segment should demystify the legal jargon so all employees understand the breadth of behaviors and actions that count as workplace violence and the employee protections available under the law.

Explanations of How to Report Incidents

All training materials should explain how employees can report incidents or concerns to employers. This part of the training must outline specific procedures for reporting and reassure employees that they are legally protected from retaliation for filing reports.

Explanations of How to Identify Hazards

This employee training component should be tailored to the unique aspects of the employee’s job and work environment. It should highlight the potential risks specific to the employee’s workplace and the practical steps the employer has taken to mitigate those risks.

Overviews of Response Strategies

Beyond identifying hazards, employees need actionable strategies to protect themselves and others in the event of an incident of violence. Their training should include details about who to contact for help, security protocols, emergency response procedures, and how to use environmental features (like locked doors or safe rooms) to their advantage. Training should also provide clear instructions for different scenarios, ensuring employees can respond quickly and effectively to all types of workplace violence.

Explanations of Violent Incident Logs

This part of the employee training should explain the purpose of the violent incident log, the information it contains, and how it’s used to track trends and identify areas of improvement. Employees should know how to access the logs and how their reports will contribute to safer work environments.

Interactive Q&As

All training must include interactive question-and-answer sessions, offering employees a chance to clarify uncertainties, ask questions, and discuss hypothetical scenarios. This ensures the training is not just a passive experience but an engaging opportunity for learning.

Training Material Customization, Introduction, and Repetition

The training should be tailored to the workforce’s educational level, literacy, and language to ensure all employees can fully understand and engage with the content. Employers must provide this training when the violence prevention plan is first established and then repeat it annually. Employers should also integrate this training into the onboarding process for new employees. Additional training is required whenever employers identify new violence hazards or update their plans.

What Are the New Record-Keeping Requirements?

Under the new law, California employers must meet specific record-keeping requirements to ensure a
safe workplace and compliance with workplace violence prevention measures. Here’s a breakdown of
the records employers must keep:

  • Hazard Identification Records:

: Employers must create and keep records of workplace violence hazard identification, evaluation, and correction measures. These records are essential for understanding potential risks in the workplace and the steps employers have taken to mitigate them. Employers must maintain these records for at least five years, storing them securely to be accessible upon request.

  • Training Records:

For every training session conducted under the workplace violence prevention plan, employers must record the training date, a summary of what they covered, and the names and qualifications of the trainers. Additionally, they must document the names and job titles of all attendees. Employers must keep these records on file for at least one year.

  • Violent Incident Logs:

Employers must maintain records of violent incident logs, which detail specific instances of workplace violence, for a minimum of five years. These logs are essential for tracking trends in workplace violence and the effectiveness of prevention measures

  • Incident Investigation Records: 

When a workplace violence incident occurs, an investigation should follow. Employers must keep records of these investigations for at least five years. Importantly, these records must not contain medical information about individuals involved since this would violate privacy and confidentiality laws.

All records mentioned must be available for examination and copying by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) upon request. Furthermore, employees and their representatives (e.g., union representatives) must be able to access the records related to hazard identification, training, violent incident logs, and incident investigations without cost. Employers must provide these records within 15 calendar days of a request.

Contact Conn Maciel Carey for Your Turnkey Workplace Violence Prevention Program Solution

Are you ready to meet the July 1, 2024, deadline for SB 553 compliance? With the date fast approaching, ensuring your business has a solid workplace violence prevention program is increasingly urgent. While meeting these new requirements might seem straightforward, overlooking specific details could expose your business to legal risks.

 

Conn Maciel Carey is here to help your business get ready and fully compliant without the stress. Our team provides comprehensive Turnkey Workplace Violence Prevention Program solutions, available for a flat fee and designed to fit your organization’s specific needs. Our services include creating customized training materials, conducting initial training for supervisors and non-supervisors, and ensuring your team is equipped to carry out annual refresher training. We’ll also assess any gaps in related policies to ensure seamless integration with your new plan. And if you’re working from your own draft policy or need specific components of our turnkey solution, our ad-hoc services are flexible to match your needs.

 

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Contact Conn Maciel Carey today to secure a customized workplace violence prevention solution that gives you peace of mind and keeps your employees safe.

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