California’s SB 553 Law is Changing the State’s Labor Code
Author Name: TrainingABC
Posted: 12-30-2023 06:47 AM
Synopsis: Learn about California's new SB 553 law which mandates workplace violence training.
To fully understand California’s new law, SB 553, employers must understand the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973. Also known as OSHA, the 1973 law placed a set of employee safety responsibilities directly on employers. It dictated that California employers had to establish, implement, and maintain an injury prevention program. With the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of the Department of Industrial Relations overseeing the law, any violations of OSHA by employers were considered criminal offenses.
In 1973, the Cal/OSHA requirements were revolutionary in protecting the safety of employees. It prevented poor labor conditions, improper machinery maintenance, and other safety risks. But there’s one glaring area that was left uncovered, until now that is. Workplace violence is an unfortunate reality in many professional settings. It’s not just referring to disgruntled colleagues or abusive bosses; workplace violence can happen in many different settings and come from a multitude of sources.
As we examine California’s new law, which was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 20, 2023, we’ll look at the law’s specific requirements, who is protected by it, and what employers must do to continue operating within the confines of the legal requirements in CA.
What is “Workplace Violence”?
When business leaders think about workplace violence, their minds might go to angry customers throwing something at an employee (which just happened at a Chipotle) or more inherently dangerous jobs like security and policing. But, according to SB 553, the term “workplace violence” is even more broad. Of course, the law includes the above examples, but it also includes protection for things like:
- Armed assailants entering a workplace and threatening or physically harming the employees on the clock.
- Psychological stress or trauma from a particularly challenging customer.
- Violent threats from colleagues, customers, or business partners.
- Aggressive animals that pose a threat to employees. If there’s an aggressive dog that attacks a mailman delivering a parcel, it would be reported under this law.
- An employer receiving a violent text from a spouse or partner while they are at work.
It’s important to note that bodily harm does not have to take place for this law to cover an incident; the threat of harm or undue stress is enough to warrant protections from SB 553.
How Can Employers Comply?
Every employer wants their employees to feel safe – both physically and emotionally – while at work. It’s in everyone’s best interest to be proactive in complying with this new law. At a high level, all covered employers in the state of California must adopt a comprehensive violence prevention plan. This plan must include the following:
- The individuals within the organization who are responsible for implementing and updating the workplace violence prevention plan.
- Detailed procedures and policies surrounding employee involvement in the creation, implementation, and periodic review of the plan. Employee training must be conducted to ensure that all employees can identify workplace violence, understand the potential threats associated with their roles, and effectively report workplace violence incidents.
- An implementation plan that showcases the specific steps employers will take to distribute the law’s information to employees equally throughout the organization.
- Steps to contact authorities and get help at all working hours.
- A policy that prevents the employer from retaliating against employees who seek support from law enforcement or emergency services.
- Communication procedures and training materials.
- A cohesive assessment to test employee knowledge and understanding of the new law.
- Outline of how incident response and workplace corrections will be handled.
Aside from planning and implementing a violence prevention plan, employers must also create a reporting system that creates a space for incidents to be logged, addressed, and investigated. When reporting an incident, the following information must be included:
- The data, time, and location of the incident.
- A description of what happened.
- Information about who committed the violence.
- Circumstances of the employee’s job at the time of the incident.
- The type of incident (verbal, sexual, physical, or animal attacks).
- Any consequences, such as medical treatment or law enforcement help that were a result of the incident.
- Contact information for the person completing the report.
Lastly, the law allows employers to seek temporary restraining orders on behalf of employees who fell victim to workplace violence.
Who Isn’t Covered?
Most employers in California with more than 10 employees are legally obligated to abide by SB 553 and the related requirements. However, healthcare employers that are already covered by Cal/OSHA’s Violence Prevention in Health Care protections would operate under that bill rather than this one. Additionally, the following employee situations are not covered:
- Employees who telework from a location of their choosing that is not controlled by the employer. If an employee elects to work from a co-working space near their home, and an armed robber attacks the co-working space, the employer is not responsible to report the incident or take steps to prevent it.
- If employees work in non-public locations that have fewer than 10 people working at any given time, they are not covered by SB 553.
- Law enforcement agencies, Department of Corrections facilities, and Rehabilitation providers are not covered.
To Comply or Not Comply?
Not only is complying with SB 553 in the best interest of your organization and your employees, but if you are one of the covered employers, it’s a legal requirement. Employers must have all plans in place by July 1, 2024. Even if you are not considered a covered employee under SB 553, putting a workplace prevention plan in place can offer legal protection, boost the safety of your employees, and create a more successful, open workplace culture.
Employers outside of CA might want to start figuring out how to support similar requirements in their state because California often sets the precedent for other employee protection laws around the nation. If one person feels unsafe, the whole organization is unsafe. Employers owe it to their employees to cultivate a working environment that allows them to thrive, and this is a very basic requirement in doing just that.