Disclaimer: None of the content in this article constitutes legal advice, nor does it contain every detail or requirement of the applicable laws. It is 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 recent years, workplace violence prevention has taken center stage in legislative agendas across the country. California, long known for its progressive policies, has been at the forefront of launching measures to promote safety and security within its communities. Senate Bill 553 is one such initiative that underscores the state’s commitment to mitigating violence through comprehensive training programs.

Summer is fast approaching and this year we’re focused on more than just pool parties and brunch on the patio. Marked in big, bold letters on our calendar (and if you’re a California company, on yours too!) is the new bill SB 553’s July 1st, 2024 deadline.

What is SB 553?

California SB 553, also known as the Workplace Violence Prevention Bill, emphasizes the importance of comprehensive training for folks working in a number of different sectors, including education, healthcare, and public service.

The bill requires employers to provide workplace violence prevention training to employees, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to identify, mitigate, and respond to potential threats effectively.

Workplace Violence Prevention Checklist

Why is workplace violence prevention training important?

  • Early intervention: Violence prevention training empowers individuals to recognize warning signs and intervene before situations escalate. By promoting early intervention strategies, like conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques, training programs can help prevent acts of violence from occurring.
  • Creating safe workplaces: In educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and other workplaces, safety is absolutely paramount. Violence prevention training establishes a culture of safety where healthcare workers and students feel empowered to address concerns and contribute to the creation of secure environments conducive to learning and productivity.
  • Building resilience: Through simulated scenarios and hands-on exercises, violence prevention training cultivates a sense of resilience among participants. By mimicking real-life situations, everyone learns to remain calm under pressure, make informed decisions, and effectively communicate with others during crisis situations.
  • Enhancing awareness: For any workplace, threats can manifest in various forms — including physical violence, cyberbullying, and verbal abuse. Violence prevention training raises awareness about the different types of violence and equips individuals with the knowledge needed to identify potential risks and take proactive measures to address them.
  • Addressing root causes: While immediate intervention is crucial, addressing the root causes of violence is equally important. Violence prevention training explores underlying factors contributing to aggression and conflict, such as social inequalities, mental health issues, and substance abuse. By addressing these root causes, training programs aim to prevent violence at its source and promote long-term societal change.

Workplace violence prevention FAQs

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been sharing tips on how to get your team compliant, while taking a deeper dive into the nuances of SB 553. We’ve compiled all of our resources here to help you get your own California workplace violence prevention plan in place before the deadline.

Which employers are subject to SB 553?

Nearly all employers with employees located in California 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.

My employees in California operate out of a co-working space. Does the law still apply to me?

Simply put, it depends on whether or not said co-working space is “under the control of the employer”. But what does that actually mean?

You might guess that if a location is “under the control” of an employer, it means they own and operate it. Not necessarily! It just means that the location was selected by the employer, and there’s some sort of requirement for the employees to operate out of it; whether that’s every weekday, a few times a week, or once a month.

To illustrate this, let’s explore three situations that involve a co-working space. We’ll call it VeeVerk.

  • Your remote, Los Angeles-based employee hates working from home, so they tend to telework out of their local VeeVerk, by their own choice. In this case, this employee would not subject you to SB 553.
  • Your distributed company has a satellite office at a VeeVerk in Oakland and requires its 15 Bay Area employees to come in at least three times a week. This employer likely would be subject to SB 553.
  • Your company is VeeVerk, and you have more than 10 employees working on-site and/or qualify as a workplace that’s accessible to the public. In this circumstance, you would almost certainly be subject to SB 553.

My employees in California are completely remote. Does this subject me to SB 553?

In this case, you would most likely be exempt from SB 553, since the employee’s residence (or favorite coffee shop) is not under your control.

What do I need to do in order to be compliant?

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
  • Conducting ongoing annual training on the violence prevention plan
  • Maintaining records and documentation related to the above activities

What are the training requirements for SB 553?

According to SB 553, workplace violence prevention training must cover:

  • Your company’s Workplace Violence Prevention Plan
  • How employees can get a free copy of the Plan
  • How employees can get involved in developing and implementing the Plan
  • Key definitions and requirements
  • How employees can report workplace violence concerns (without fear of retaliation or reprisal)
  • A list of workplace violence hazards that are specific to your employees’ roles
  • The preventative measures that are currently in place
  • How to get help preventing or responding to violence
  • Strategies for avoiding physical harm in the event of a violent incident
  • The violent incident log (maintained by your company)
  • How employees (and/or their representatives) can get copies of records
  • An opportunity for an interactive Q&A session with a person knowledgeable about the Plan

How long should the training be?

Here, unfortunately, is where the law is currently a bit light on information. As of the date of publication — and don’t worry, we’ll update this post when we know more — there are no specific requirements regarding the length of the training.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that there are no requirements. What it means is that we’re all in the same boat, waiting to see if CalOSHA will deliver additional guidance on this topic before the July 1st, 2024 effective date. 

But again, there’s no guarantee that they will, so this is where we are for the moment. Just know that if they do pipe up, we’ll make sure you know about it.

Is an anonymous form good enough to meet the training requirements?

We’ve already talked you through the Workplace Violence Prevention Plan and the employee training that are required under SB 553. But the Bill also specifies a third and fourth element that you must have in place: channels through which employees can report workplace violence, and a violent incident log to document those reports in detail.

These are the portions of your Workplace Violence Prevention compliance plan that you might be tempted to address with a simple anonymous form. But given the many demands that the violent incident log in particular is expected to meet, we wouldn’t recommend skimping.

That’s because when you or someone else at your organization receives an anonymous report regarding potential workplace violence, it provides some information, but not a ton. Essentially it gives you one individual’s version of what happened, when what you actually need are in-depth versions of who, what, where, when, why, how…and what’s being done to prevent it for next time. 

With a tool like Ethena’s, you can follow-up with the reporter to get the information you need, while with an anonymous form, your only way forward is through an investigation — taking witness statements and soliciting information from those who experienced the incident. That’s a perfectly reasonable next step, we’re just flagging that the more tools you have in your arsenal, the more equipped you’ll be to handle a report of workplace violence.

What does the violent incident log need to do?

The requirements of a violent incident log are written right into the text of SB 553. 

According to the Bill, a violent incident log must document the details of any incident, with entries based on information gleaned from those employees who experienced the violence, any available witness statements, and on the findings turned up in the ensuing investigation. The log also shouldn’t include any personal identifying information for anyone involved.

Getting even more specific, each entry in the violent incident log must include the following:

  • The date, time, and location of the incident
  • The type(s) of workplace violence, which include:
    • Type 1 Violence: Workplace violence committed by someone with no legitimate business at the worksite, including violent acts by anyone who enters the workplace or approaches workers with the intent to commit a crime
    • Type 2 Violence: Workplace violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or other visitors
    • Type 3 Violence: Workplace violence against an employee by a present or former employee, supervisor, or manager
    • Type 4 Violence: Workplace violence committed in the workplace by a person who doesn’t work there but has or is known in the past to have had a personal relationship with an employee
  • A detailed description of the incident
  • A classification of the incident’s perpetrator — was it a client, a customer, a client or customer’s family or friend, a stranger with criminal intent, a coworker, supervisor, manager, romantic partner, relative, or other perpetrator?
  • An analysis of the circumstances surrounding the event — like whether the employee was in a rush, working in a poorly-lit area, completing tasks outside their typical job duties, working in isolation, unable to get help, working somewhere new or unfamiliar, or in a community setting
  • An even more detailed location description — did this happen at work, on the way to work, outside of work, in the parking lot, etc.?
  • The type of incident, and specifically whether it included:
    • A physical attack without a weapon 
    • An attack with a weapon or weapon-like object
    • The threat of physical force or the use of a weapon
    • A sexual assault or the threat of such an assault
    • Animal attack
    • Other — and here you’d want to think about the circumstances relevant to your unique workplace
  • Consequences of the incident, including:
    • Was security or law enforcement summoned, and if so, what was their response?
    • What actions have been taken to ensure that employees will be protected from a continued threat or any other potential hazards revealed by the incident? 
  • And finally, information for the person filling out the log, including name, job title, and date

By our count, that’s nine separate bullet points that need to be covered, three of which have multiple subsets of their own. So the more tools in your tool belt — like our Employee Hotline and Case Management system, for example — the more easily you can check these off your list. 

Am I required to keep any records?

Yes. You’re required to maintain training records for at least a year, and to ensure that those records include:

  • Dates over which the training was completed
  • Contents of the training, or a summary of what was covered in the sessions
  • Names and qualifications of those who conducted the trainings, and
  • Names and job titles of everyone in attendance for the training sessions

These records must also be made available upon request for examination and copying in the event of an audit. And they also need to be made available to employees and/or their representatives at no cost and within 15 calendar days of the request.

The final word

California Senate Bill 553 emphasizes the state’s commitment to prioritizing safety and security through proactive measures. By mandating violence prevention training, SB 553 lays the foundation for creating safer environments where everyone can thrive, free from the fear of violence.

The California workplace violence prevention law will also require businesses to meet a recurring annual training requirement that is specific to each company’s risks and plans. At Ethena, we want to help you take the guesswork out of compliance training. That’s why we have created our Workplace Violence Prevention course (<20 minutes long!), designed to meet the requirements of SB 553.