Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

California adopts general requirements for workplace violence prevention

Posted by Jon Elliott on Fri, Dec 15, 2023

pexels-yan-krukau-7640471On September 30, 2023, California’s governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 553, which expands the state’s workplace violence prevention (WVP) requirements, adding duties and rights for most employers in the state. Most importantly, SB 553 requires all non-exempt employers in the state to create WVP plans. These expanded requirements will be administered by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH, but generally referred to as “Cal/OSHA”), which already administers WVP planning requirements for healthcare employers (which I wrote about HERE), and has been working on a general rule (I wrote about the latest draft HERE). The remainder of this note discusses SB 553, which takes effect on January 1, 2024 but remains subject to further rulemakings.

Who will be subject to these WVP requirements?

SB 553 will apply these requirements to all employers in California, except the following:

  • healthcare employers subject to the specialized WVP requirements noted above
  • other employers that choose to meet the healthcare sector requirements
  • facilities of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (which must consider WVP issues in their Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (IIPPs; see below)
  • law enforcement agencies that comply with WVP requirements from the California Commission on Peace Officer Safety and Training (POST)
  • employees teleworking from a location of the employee’s choice, which is not under the employer’s control
  • workplaces where fewer than 10 employees work at any given time and that are not accessible to the public, that comply with IIPP requirements

How does SB 553 define WVP and related terms?

SB 553 provides the following fairly typical definition of workplace violence:

“(A) ’Workplace violence’ means any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs in a place of employment.

(B) Workplace violence includes the following:

(ii) An incident involving a threat or use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, including the use of common objects as weapons, regardless of whether the employee sustains an injury;

(iii) The following four workplace violence types:

(I) ‘Type 1 violence’ which means workplace violence committed by a person who has no legitimate business at the worksite, and includes violent acts by anyone who enters the workplace or approaches workers with the intent to commit a crime.

(II) ‘Type 2 violence,’ which means workplace violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or visitors.

(III) ‘Type 3 violence,’ which means workplace violence against an employee by a present or former employee, supervisor, or manager.

(IV) ‘Type 4 violence’ which means workplace violence committed in the workplace by a person who does not work there, but has or is known to have had a personal relationship with an employee.

(C) ‘Workplace violence’ does not include lawful acts of self-defense or defense of others.”

Since this definition includes “threat of violence,” SB 553 also defines that term as follows:

“’Threat of violence’ means any verbal or written statement, including, but not limited to, texts, electronic messages, social media messages, or other online posts, or any behavioral or physical conduct, that conveys an intent, or that is reasonably perceived to convey an intent, to cause physical harm or to place someone in fear of physical harm, and that serves no legitimate purpose.”

Note that these definitions include actual violence as well as threats that others may find credible, and violence perpetrated in a workplace by co-workers, invitees and interlopers.

What are employers be required to do?

SB 553 imposes significant workplace violence prevention responsibilities on employers:

  • Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (Plan)

Each employer must “establish, implement, and maintain an effective [Plan].” The Plan must be in writing, and available to employees, their authorized representatives and Cal/OSHA at all times. The employer can incorporate the Plan into its general-purpose Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP – which I wrote about HERE). Each Plan must include all the following elements:

(1) Names or job titles of person(s) responsible for implementing the Plan.
(2) Effective procedures for active involvement of employees and their representatives in Plan design and implementation.
(3) Methods to coordinate implementation with other employers (when applicable; e.g. when companies host contractors, or at multi-employer jobsites).
(4) Effective procedures for the employer to accept and respond to reports of workplace violence, and to prohibit retaliation against a reporting employee.
(5) Effective procedures to ensure that supervisory and non-supervisory employees comply with the Plan.
(6) Effective procedures to communicate with employees regarding workplace violence matters including:
(A) How an employee can report a violent incident, threat, or other workplace violence concern without fear of reprisal;
(B) How employee concerns will be investigated, and how employees will be informed of the results of the investigation and any corrective actions;
(7) Effective procedures to respond to actual or potential workplace violence emergencies, including at least the following:
(A) Effective means to alert employees of the presence, location, and nature of workplace violence emergencies.
(B) Evacuation or sheltering plans appropriate and feasible for the worksite.
(C) How to obtain help from any staff assigned to respond to workplace violence emergencies, any security personnel, and law enforcement;
(8) Procedures to develop and provide required training (see below).
(9) Procedures to identify workplace violence hazards, including scheduled periodic inspections to identify unsafe conditions and work practices; and procedures to evaluate identified workplace violence hazards. Inspections are to be conducted when the Plan is first established, after each workplace violence incident, and whenever the employer is made aware of a new or previously unrecognized hazard.
(10) Procedures for timely correction of identified hazards.
(11) Procedures for post-incident response and investigation.
(12) Procedures to review the effectiveness of the Plan at least annually, and after any workplace violence incident that results in an injury, and to revise the Plan as needed.
(13) Procedures to comply with other requirements Cal/OSHA may include in implementing regulations.

  • Violent Incident Log

The employer must maintain a log of incidents with required information (similar to general injury and illness (I&I) log requirements, which I’ve written about several times, including HERE)

  • Training

The employer is to provide effective training, initially and at least annually thereafter, appropriate to the employees and including:

(1) general awareness training that includes: the employer’s Plan, how to obtain a copy, how to participate in development and implementation of the employer’s Plan, definitions and requirements under this law, and how to report workplace violence incidents or concerns to the employer or law enforcement without fear of reprisal.
(2) Workplace violence hazards specific to the employees’ jobs, corrective measures the employer has implemented, an explanation of the Plan, how to seek assistance to prevent or respond to violence, and strategies to avoid physical harm.
(3) The Violent Incident Log, and how to obtain copies of required incident-related records.
(4) An opportunity for interactive questions and answers with a knowledgeable person
(5) Additional training shall be provided when a new or previously unrecognized workplace violence hazard is identified.

  • Required record keeping

Employers must retain for at least 5 years: records of training; records of workplace violence incident investigations; and Violent Incident Logs must be retained for at least 5 years. These records must be available upon request to employees and their representatives, and to Cal/OSHA.

What additional protective provisions does SB 553 provide?

Existing law authorizes any employer, whose employee(s) have suffered “unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence from any individual that can reasonably be construed to be carried out or to have been carried out at the workplace,” to seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) and an order after hearing against the perpetrator(s)on behalf of the employee(s) at the workplace. These orders provide injunctions against “harassing, intimidating, molesting, attacking, striking, stalking, threatening, sexually assaulting, battering, abusing, telephoning …, destroying personal property, contacting, either directly or indirectly, by mail or otherwise, or coming within a specified distance of, or disturbing the peace of, the [protected] employee.”

Effective January 1, 2025, SB 553 expands this ability to seek injunctions to would also authorize a collective bargaining representative of an employee to seek a TRO/order on behalf of employee(s) at the workplace. SB 553 adds a requirement that an employer or collective bargaining representative of an employee, before filing such a petition, to provide the victimized employee(s) with an opportunity to decline to be named in the temporary restraining order. If only some employee(s) request to not be named in the TRO/order then the employer or collective bargaining representative can still proceed on behalf of other employee(s).

What happens next?

These requirements are effective January 1, 2024. In addition, however, Cal/OSHA is to develop a workplace standard to implement these requirements by December 31, 2025 – note that most of these new statutory requirements are very similar to Cal/OSHA’s latest proposal. The state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (which reviews and adopts Cal/OSHA standards) is to adopt a final standard by December 31, 2026. Non-exempt employers in California must prepare quickly to comply (note that Cal/OSHA already provides model “workplace security” documentation in the IIPP discussion on its website). Employers with activities in other states should consider creating WVP Plans; several US states already have narrower requirements and several Canadian provinces already have general requirements, and many North American jurisdictions are considering such rules.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Does the organization operate any activities or facilities in California that will be subject to Cal/OSHA’s  WVP requirements?

- If so, does it maintain a WVP plan (perhaps as part of its IIPP)?

Whether or not the organization is subject to these requirements, does it:

- Have a plan for workplace violence prevention, including procedures to ensure appropriate assessment, prevention and response activities?

- Have established communication and cooperation procedures with local emergency responders and law enforcement?

- Record incidents of workplace violence (i.e., in its I&I log)?

- Procedures and method(s) for reporting incidents?

- Provide employees training in workplace violence hazards, prevention and responses?

Has the organization ever had a workplace violence incident at one of its operations?

- If so, how has the organization responded?

Where Can I Go For More Information?

About the Author

jon_f_elliottJon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 30 years. 

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

Tags: Workplace violence, California, DOSH, WVP, IIPP