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New Law Focuses on Preventing Workplace Violence

HUMAN RESOURCES: SB 553 Takes Effect in July; Employee Meetings Encouraged

SAN DIEGO COUNTY – July 1 is the day California businesses must have formal workplace violence prevention plans in place, according to a new state law.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 553, which calls for the new plans and training, on Sept. 30.

Under SB 553, business owners must have a violence prevention plan, train both employees and managers on their company’s plan and keep logs of incidents.

Scott Bullock
Human Resources Consultant
Optima Office

The new law has been “on all HR professionals’ radar,” said Scott Bullock, human resources consultant with University City-based Optima Office, who is helping employers draft their plans.

Narrow Exceptions; Cal/OSHA to Enforce

There are narrow exceptions to the law. Certain work sites with fewer than 10 employees are exempt, provided the sites are closed to the general public. Businesses with fully remote workforces are also exempt, said Bullock.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health – known variously as DOSH or Cal/OSHA – will enforce the law. Penalties would start at $25,000.

SB 553 comes on the heels of legislation passed in 2014 that required healthcare facilities to have violence prevention plans.

The workplace violence prevention plans will be an element of companies’ existing injury and illness prevention plans.

The good news is that the state provides a template for writing a workplace violence prevention plan. Human resources specialists interviewed by the San Diego Business Journal called it a starting point.

The state-provided sample plan is extremely broad. “It has the kitchen sink in it,” said Bullock.

Employee Input

Plans should be tailored to individual businesses, and the development of such plans should include a dialogue between employers and employees, said Jennifer Jacobus, CEO at the San Diego Employers Association, who is also helping local companies with their plans.

Jennifer Jacobus
CEO
San Diego Employers Association

(The San Diego Employers Association offers training for $1,200. Optima Office offers training and documents for $995. Some law firms are helping longtime clients adapt to the new requirements for a nominal fee, Jacobus said.)

The HR experts said workplace violence prevention plans will have to be informed by circumstances specific to the business: whether the company shares a building with other companies, for example, or whether there are hazardous materials on site.

Employees best know what hazards or hazardous situations are at a workplace, they said.

Silicon Valley Tragedy Spurred Legislation

SB 553 was carried by Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose). Spurring the legislation, his office said, was the May 2021 mass shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard in San Jose. Contemporary media accounts said a gunman killed eight co-workers before killing himself. A ninth died later. The incident was the worst mass shooting in the San Francisco Bay Area in decades, according to the Associated Press.

According to CNN, five years prior to the shooting, the suspect was allegedly found with a memo book filled with notes of hatred toward his employer.

Cal/OSHA reports that 57 working people died from acts of workplace violence in California in 2021. In the United States, an average of 1.3 million nonfatal violent crimes in the workplace occurred annually from 2015 to 2019.

Bullock described a more positive way to address the subject matter – to make it part of a broader discussion of safety. Safety briefings are already a part of many company cultures.

“We’re approaching it from safety culture perspective, rather than compliance based” perspective, he said.

Happening Next: Right to Disconnect?

Employment related bills currently going through the California Legislature include a potential “right to disconnect” law, limiting communication between employers and employees during non-work hours. Employers could be fined $100 for each violation, Jacobus said.

Assembly Bill 2751 “is going to be hard to monitor,” Jacobus said, and the rules may be different for salaried, exempt employees, she said.

Assembly Member Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) is carrying AB 2751.

The San Diego Employers Association is planning a midyear employment law review program on June 28.

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