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California Workplace Violence Legislation Could Provide Fed OSHA Blueprint

In September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 553 into law, creating a new requirement for almost all workplaces in the state to establish a written workplace violence prevention plan. The law – which will go into effect in July of 2024 – marks the first time workplace violence legislation will apply to all industries in a state. (Previous efforts have typically been limited to the healthcare industry.)

LHSFNA Management
David F. Rampone

Notably, this law is not a new Cal/OSHA standard, although the agency did propose a standard in 2022 and many of SB 553’s requirements were part of that proposal. While Cal/OSHA remains one of the most progressive state OSHA programs in the country, they still have to follow a lengthy legal rulemaking process. In this case, the legislature was a faster avenue to get improved worker protections on the books.

“Workplace violence affects millions of workers each year, and in many cases these incidents are preventable,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman David F. Rampone. “Employers can help protect their workforce by planning ahead, training workers how to respond if an incident does occur and reporting and investigating incidents promptly.”

Which Groups Does the Law Include?

The law will apply to almost all workplaces, with only the following groups being exempt:

  • Employers already covered by the state’s workplace violence standard in the healthcare industry
  • Work locations that aren’t accessible to the public AND have fewer than 10 employees
  • Workers teleworking in a location not controlled by their employer
  • Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facilities and law enforcement agencies

While many small construction contractors have fewer than 10 workers, sites will also need to be inaccessible to the public to qualify as exempt under the law. That means visitors, customers and people with a personal relationship to employees also can’t access the location.

How Is Workplace Violence Defined?

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For other states considering similar legislation, how workplace violence is defined is a critical piece of the law because it affects nearly all of the resulting requirements. In California, SB 553 defines workplace violence as “any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs in a place of employment.” The law considers an incident as workplace violence if it results in injury, has a high likelihood of resulting in injury or causes psychological trauma or stress to an employee.

Under the law, employers are responsible for investigating and responding to acts of workplace violence committed against their workers by fellow coworkers, customers and visitors.

What Are the Requirements?

Employers must establish, implement and maintain a workplace violence prevention plan as a standalone section of their Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) or as a separate document. As part of that plan, employers must:

  • Identify who is responsible for implementing the plan and responding to threats of workplace violence
  • Explain the procedure for workers to report workplace violence and how the employer will respond to it, without retaliation against the worker reporting the incident
  • Identify evacuation or sheltering plans for the site and how workers will be alerted during an emergency
  • Train workers on how to get help from law enforcement or someone designated by the employer to respond to workplace violence incidents
  • Maintain a Violent Incident Log that includes details about post-incident investigations
  • Maintain records of the Violent Incident Log, incident investigations, workplace violence hazards assessments and worker training

Using the California Law as a Model

It’s recommended that California employers begin taking the steps to establish a workplace violence prevention plan to ensure compliance by July 2024. Employers in other states that have concerns about workplace violence can also use the California law as a model and implement a similar program voluntarily. Recognizing the potential threat of workplace violence and taking steps to prevent it can protect not only the physical safety of your workforce, but their mental health and well-being as well.

The LHSFNA can help LIUNA signatory employers assess potential workplace violence hazards, add a workplace violence prevention plan to an existing IIPP or review and develop policies and language for standalone programs. The Fund’s Workplace Violence Prevention manual and Workplace Violence Toolbox Talk are also available to all LIUNA signatory contractors and LIUNA affiliates on our website.

[Nick Fox]

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