Disclaimer: None of the content in this article constitutes legal advice, nor does it contain every detail or requirement of the applicable laws. It’s provided solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be relied upon as a standalone resource. If you have questions about these laws or their implications for your organization, please consult your legal counsel.

In California, workplace safety is a paramount concern for both employers and employees. And with the passage of Senate Bill 553 (SB 553) on September 30th, 2023, the state has taken significant strides to address workplace violence prevention, imposing new requirements and obligations on employers.

As the countdown to the July 1, 2024 deadline for compliance approaches, it’s essential for businesses to understand the provisions of SB 553 related to workplace violence prevention and take proactive measures to ensure compliance. In this guide, we’ll explore the key requirements of SB 553 related to workplace violence prevention, and outline steps that you can take to meet these obligations.

Let’s dive in.

Understanding California Senate Bill 553

SB 553 contains various provisions aimed at enhancing workplace safety and promoting a culture of violence prevention. While the bill covers several areas, including wage and hour regulations and paid family leave, one of its critical components is the requirement for employers to implement measures for preventing workplace violence.

Key aspects of SB 553 related to workplace violence prevention include:

  1. Definition of workplace violence: SB 553 defines workplace violence broadly to include any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other disruptive behavior occurring at the worksite that poses a threat to the safety or well-being of employees.
  2. Requirement for written workplace violence prevention plan: The bill mandates that employers develop and implement a written workplace violence prevention plan tailored to the specific hazards and risks present in their workplace. The plan must include procedures for identifying and evaluating workplace violence hazards, methods for correcting hazards, communication protocols, and employee training requirements.
  3. Employee training: SB 553 requires employers to provide training to employees on recognizing and responding to potential workplace violence hazards. Training topics may include de-escalation techniques, emergency response procedures, reporting mechanisms, and resources available for seeking assistance or support.
  4. Incident reporting and investigation: The bill also mandates that employers establish procedures for reporting and investigating incidents of workplace violence promptly. This includes documenting incidents, conducting thorough investigations, and taking appropriate corrective actions to prevent future occurrences.

If you’re not in an “IRL” industry like retail or hospitality, you might think this doesn’t apply to your organization. But prominent law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP notes that the definition of violence is actually quite broad and includes “a threat against an employee that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in, injury, psychological trauma, or ‘stress,’ regardless of whether the employee sustains an injury.”

Furthermore, “the definition is subjective. A seemingly innocuous comment to some might be considered workplace violence based on the perception of an employee.” Practically speaking, this means workplace violence can occur in remote organizations, too.

Who does SB 553 impact?

Nearly California employers and employees are impacted by SB 553. In fact, it’s actually easier to describe who it doesn’t impact, so we’ll do that instead. Here’s who’s exempt:

  • Employers already covered by Cal/OSHA’s Violence Prevention in Health Care standard
  • Employees who telework from a location of their choosing that’s outside the control of the employer
  • Locations not open to the public where fewer than 10 employees work at a given time
  • Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and law enforcement agencies

If you’re unsure whether the new law applies to you and your employees, we recommend talking to a qualified employment counsel.

What do I need to do to comply with SB 553?

To meet the new law’s requirements, employers need to create, implement, and maintain an effective workplace violence prevention plan. This includes:

  • Building relevant policies and procedures
  • Creating channels for reporting violent incidents and threats
  • Ongoing annual training on the violence prevention plan
  • Ongoing recordkeeping related to the above activities

What needs to be included in my workplace violence prevention plan?

Think of this as your “in case of emergency” plan that should be created in consultation with key stakeholders (e.g. facilities managers) and must include procedures for:

  • Communicating with employees about: (1) how to report violent incidents, threats, or workplace violence concerns to employer or law enforcement and (2) how concerns will be investigated and results communicated
  • Responding to actual and potential workplace violence emergencies
  • Identifying and evaluating workplace violence hazards
  • Post-incident response and investigation

Get everything you need for California Workplace Violence Prevention (SB 553) in one place with our CA SB 553 content hub.

Which reporting systems do I need?

California SB 553 requires companies to have effective procedures for the employer to accept and respond to reports of workplace violence, and to prohibit retaliation against an employee who makes such a report.

This means you need to provide your employees a way to come forward and ensure that employees who come forward aren’t retaliated against.

You’ll also need to keep a violence incident log, which is essentially a repository of any reports that come in through your established channel. An effective log should include the following elements: 

  • Date, time, and location of the incident
  • Detailed description of the incident
  • Classification of who committed the violence
  • The violence type including whether it was a physical attack or threat, whether weapons or other objects were involved, or whether it was a sexual assault
  • Consequences of the incident including whether security or law enforcement was contacted and whether actions were taken to protect employees from a continuing threat

You’ll also need to keep any records of incident investigations. For example, if HR conducted an investigation after an employee raised the concern that they were being threatened by their manager, those investigation notes need to be stored and maintained by employers for at least five year.

Employees are entitled to view and copy the log within 15 calendar days of a request.

What kind training is required under SB 553? 

The law requires that employers train employees when they establish a workplace violence plan, and then annually thereafter. 

Training needs to cover these topics:

  • The employer’s Plan and how employees can obtain a free copy of the Plan
  • How to report workplace violence hazards and workplace violence incidents
  • Corrective measures the employer has implemented
  • How to seek assistance to prevent or respond to violence
  • Strategies to avoid physical harm
  • Information about the violent incident log and how employees can obtain a copy

In addition to the initial and annual training, further training is required when new workplace violence hazards are identified or when the plan changes, with employers required to retain training records for at least one year.

As you can see, this training needs to be specific to your company’s risks and plans. A one-size-fits-all training won’t work, which is why we at Ethena are developing a customizable course you can tailor to your organization.

When is the SB 553 deadline?

California employers must comply with the requirements outlined in SB 553 by July 1st 2024. Remember that you’ll need to have a plan, initial training, and a way to receive and log reports in place by then — and you’ll also need to meet the recurring annual training requirement.

Just give me the TL;DR

California passed a new law that requires nearly all California employers to create a workplace violence prevention plan, offer a reporting channel for incidents and threats of violence, and offer annual training on the plan itself. Employers must comply by July 1, 2024.

As always, with important rulings like this, it’s best to check with your own legal counsel to confirm the exact requirements that apply to your business.

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