October 5, 2023
Governor Signs Bill Requiring Detailed Workplace Violence Prevention Plans

Governor Signs Bill Requiring Detailed
Workplace Violence Prevention Plans

Update Provided by

Jonathan S. Vick,  Michael R. Watts,  Jonathan Judge,  Jennifer S. Grock

Atkinson, Anderson, Loya, Ruud & Romo

In response to a rising tide of violence affecting employees of all types, California has enacted SB 553 which requires all employers, with few exceptions, to design, implement, and maintain workplace violence prevention plans (“WVPP”) by July 1, 2024. The new law, added as Labor Code Section 6401.9, promises to pose a challenge for California employers as they seek to comply with its complex rules.

Initially prompted by the tragic events in 2021 at the Valley Transportation Authority railyard in San Jose, the law adds WVPPs as a mandatory portion of an employer’s injury and illness prevention program (“IIPP”).  WVPPs may also be maintained as a separate document from the IIPP. WVPPs will be structured similar to IIPPs and will require an employer to designate the person responsible for implementing the program, identify and correct hazards through periodic inspections, train employees on hazards, and maintain records of incidents.

However, unlike an IIPP, the law requires employers “to obtain the active involvement of employees” and any unions “in developing and implementing the plan, [and], in designing and implementing training.” Unionized employers will be confronted with how to obtain the employees’ “active involvement” in those tasks.

Additionally, the law requires employers to train employees on numerous topics, including the law’s definitions and requirements, the WVPP itself, the documentation required under the plan, how to report incidents and concerns, and ways employees can participate in the WVPP’s development and implementation.  Aside from these legal and procedural topics, the law mandates that employers train employees on “[w]orkplace violence hazards specific to the employees’ jobs” and “strategies to avoid physical harm,” and requires employers to do so during a training that provides “[a]n opportunity for interactive questions and answers with a person knowledgeable about the employer’s plan.” This means that an employer with thousands of employees will need to train all of its numerous employees, even though their various, differing positions, may require them to learn different “strategies to avoid physical harm” during interactive training sessions. Employee involvement and complex training obligations are merely two examples of the law’s many requirements that will likely prove extremely challenging for employers to implement.

The law also requires employers to maintain various records, including a separate violent incident log, records of the employees’ training, and records of workplace violence investigations. Under the new law, employee concerns of workplace violence must be investigated as part of the employer’s responsibility to identify and correct workplace hazards, and then the results of the investigation must be communicated to the employee. Employers also have a duty to conduct an investigation after incidents of workplace violence. Given the broad definition of workplace violence as any “threat or use of physical force against an employee that results in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in, injury, psychological trauma, or stress,” these new investigative and recordkeeping requirements could  impose a significant administrative burden on employers.

Several of the law’s requirements are similar to the requirements in the current WVPP regulation that governs health care institutions. Though these requirements are likely inappropriate for all employers – a point made by businesses during the bill’s consideration – the health care industry experience with WVPPs may serve as a source of information and guidance on how to implement the requirements of SB 553.

Finally, unlike an IIPP, SB 553 specifically calls for the participation of unions in many of the key actions required by WVPPs, such as developing, implementing, and revising the WVPP and designing training on workplace violence. Given the labor movement’s newfound energy, employers with collective bargaining relationships should be prepared for active union involvement in all these processes.

If you have any questions, please contact the authors of this EAC Update or your regular employment council.

Reprinted with permission from AALRR.