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California’s Workplace Violence Law Expands Policy Requirements

California’s Workplace Violence Law Expands Policy Requirements

May 30, 2024
Nearly all employers in the state need to adopt a workplace violence prevention policy starting July 1, 2024.

Workplace violence policies will become more widespread with the passing of California Senate Bill No. 533, which was signed into law last September. The bill mandates that nearly all California employers have a workplace violence prevention plan by July 1, 2024.

The plan, which must be written and include employee involvement, requires hazard identification and correction, recordkeeping, reporting options, training and emergency response procedures to prevent workplace violence. 

EHS talked to Matthew Doherty, managing director of workplace management with Sikich, and a former Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the National Threat Assessment Center, about the implications of this bill. 

EHS: Many companies already have policies around workplace violence. How will this bill affect those policies?

MD:  It's been our experience in the last 15 years of developing workplace violence prevention policies, programs and training, as well as consulting on serious situations in the workplace, that many companies think they have policies on workplace violence, when in actuality they have a plan to respond to an active workplace violence or an active assailant.

So, they're conflating the two issues. However, even if they have a pretty sound policy, program or training, the policy will need to be revised to fully encompass the directives of 553 which are extensive.

We've been looking at workplace violence prevention policies and developing programs, and oftentimes, even large sophisticated corporate companies only have one simple sentence in their employee handbook which states that workplace violence won’t be tolerated. 

The problem is that they aren’t considering all of the issues that fall under workplace violence and therefore they don’t have early intervention plans.

EHS: What caused California to pass this bill?

MD: In San Jose, there was a shooting by an employee at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, on May 26, 2021, and nine people lost their lives.

This employee had been clearly identified as having issues and was a concern.

Senator Dave Cortese made it his mission in life to pass this bill and in September of 2023 Governor Newsom signed the bill into law. And it's really the first of its kind that we know of in the nation that has these requirements. 

EHS: Do you feel the companies understand the breadth of workplace violence which includes harassment, intimidation etc.?

MD: There are some myths out there. I'm fairly confident that if you are an employer and if there is a threat of physical violence or overt sexual harassment, it is reported. There's also a myth out there that we're just talking about coworker versus coworker violence. Well, that's not the case.

There are four types of situations that have to be categorized:

  • Type 1 is criminal intent, where a person has no legitimate business at the location and commits crimes at the workplace.
  • Type 2 is when the person could be a customer, client, visitor or vendor and the action is directed at the employees by those individuals.
  • Type 3 would be a worker-on-worker situation where violence against an employee by a present or former employee or supervisor or manager.
  • Type 4 involves personal relationships. For example, an employee could have a personal relationship with the assailant.

So, employers now need to consider all situations.

Having said that the bill poses some challenges for employers, especially smaller ones, who may not have the resources, expertise, or awareness to comply with the requirements.

EHS: What actions should companies be taking in this area?

Foremost companies need to understand the breadth of workplace violence. It’s a broader definition now, which moves beyond only a direct threat of physical violence. It involves acts of violence that result in trauma, stress and injury.

For this reason, companies need to move from having a reactionary stand to a proactive one. As companies are required to increase the level of reporting, it provides a greater opportunity for intervention before the problem escalates. If someone is exhibiting concerning behavior or  if there is concern regarding a domestic violence situation, early steps can be taken.

From an employee perspective this type of policy provides an improved culture of safety, respect and psychological well-being in the workplace. It can help encourage reporting of concerning behavior thus allowing opportunity for early invention.  

Companies also need to understand that financial impact. Reacting to a serious incident of workplace violence is at least 100 times more expensive than proactive preventive measures. In a 2019 estimate from the government organization, CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure and Security Agency), the financial impact of workplace violence was $130 billion.

I would recommend that employers consult with external professionals to help them develop and evaluate their workplace violence prevention plans, train their employees and managers, and provide guidance and support in difficult situations.

EHS: Do you think companies outside of California will become compliant with these new requirements?

MD:  This California standard is a good one and it makes sense to adopt this across an entire organization. In addition to that, we would not be surprised if other states enact this type of legislation.Many California consumer and protection laws do spread. And there has been some indication that OSHA is following this very, very closely.

So, it's best practice to get ahead of that and employ these standards.

Note: EHS has created a podcast based on this interview. 

About the Author

Adrienne Selko | Senior Editor

Email [email protected]

LinkedIn

Adrienne Selko is also the senior editor at Material Handling and Logistics and is a former editor of IndustryWeek. 

 

 

 

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