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While promoting a safer and more secure work environment is always a priority, California's SB 553 mandates specific actions employers must take around workplace violence prevention. 


Workplace violence is a paramount concern for employees and employers alike, with incidents of workplace violence posing significant risks to workers' well-being and security. To try to address these concerns, California introduced Senate Bill No. 553 (SB 553), signaling a pivotal shift in workplace safety standards. Signed into law on September 20, 2023, by Governor Gavin Newsom, SB 553 directs most California employers to adopt comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans, effective July 1, 2024. 

Legislation, however, does not equal a solution to the issue of workplace violence. In passing this law, California is telling businesses to become more proactive about workplace violence identification and compliance. It will be up to employers to not only comply with this law, but to do the work of prevention and mitigation as well. If they have not previously spent time and resources on this issue, now is the time to start.  

That said, whether you're an HR professional tasked with implementing workplace safety measures, or an employee concerned about your workplace's security, you should understand the key provisions of SB 553 and its impact. Though this bill only applies to California employers, there’s reason to believe that other states may follow suit in the future.

SB 553: What's in the Bill? 

SB 553 was written to ensure workers receive the same protections against workplace violence that healthcare workers in California already have. The bill requires most employers to expand their injury prevention program, by developing and implementing a written workplace violence prevention plan (WVPP). They must also provide employee training on workplace violence, maintain records, and allow for other protections including temporary restraining orders.  

The centerpiece of the bill is the requirement of a WVPP. California employers will have to create “a workplace violence prevention plan conforming to the requirements of Section 6401.9.” There are some exceptions: employers with fewer than 10 employees who are not accessible to the public; employees that are teleworking and not under employer’s control; employers with healthcare facilities; certain public entity employers.  

According to the text of the bill, this written plan will need to include, but not be limited to, the following points:  

(1) Identification of the person or persons responsible for implementing the program. 

(2) The employer’s system for identifying and evaluating workplace hazards, including scheduled periodic inspections to identify unsafe conditions and work practices. 

(3) The employer’s methods and procedures for correcting unsafe or unhealthy conditions and work practices in a timely manner. 

(4) An occupational health and safety training program designed to instruct employees in general safe and healthy work practices and to provide specific instruction with respect to hazards specific to each employee’s job assignment. 

(5) The employer’s system for communicating with employees on occupational health and safety matters, including provisions designed to encourage employees to inform the employer of hazards at the worksite without fear of reprisal. 

(6) The employer’s system for ensuring that employees comply with safe and healthy work practices, which may include disciplinary action. 

It will be up to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to enforce these regulations, and to finalize standardized regulations by 2026.  

How SB 553 Impacts Businesses 

In theory, SB 553 represents a significant shift in how businesses must approach workplace safety. While promoting a safer and more secure work environment is always a priority, SB 553 mandates specific actions employers must take. Here's a breakdown of the key changes businesses should be aware of: 

  • Comprehensive plans: SB 553 requires most California employers to develop and implement written plans that need to be tailored to each organization's specific risks and vulnerabilities, identifying potential threats and outlining concrete prevention measures. 
  • Designated roles: Businesses will need to assign designated individuals to oversee plan development, training, and ongoing maintenance. This ensures accountability and facilitates a proactive approach to workplace safety. 
  • Employee training: SB 553 mandates training for all employees on recognizing and reporting potential workplace violence, understanding the organization's WVPP, and their rights under the law.  
  • Record-keeping and reporting: Maintaining accurate records of identified hazards, implemented measures, training provided, and actual violent incidents and their investigations is also required.  
  • Shifting culture and protocols: The law grants protection to employees who report violence or seek assistance from law enforcement. Encouraging employees to voice concerns without fear of retaliation is essential.  

The question for employers is, how much effort will they put into this process?  

“This is a good starting point for California,” says David Ickes, VP of Global Risk Management at Global Guardian. “As long as the company puts real effort into the program and doesn’t treat it like a paperwork drill, this will help them in identifying risks as well as swim lanes for different departments."  

Implementing the requirements of SB 553 will require initial effort and investment from businesses, and simply checking the box on this law may satisfy compliance, but won’t do much to improve the company’s posture on workplace violence.  

“Workplace violence protection plans vary significantly from company to company,” says Ickes. “Leadership must really dive deep into their own structures to determine where the risks are and what they can do about it.  This is not a one-size-fits-all program and should not be treated as one.” 

This is important, because fostering a culture of safety and well-being is not just a legal obligation, but also part of your duty of care responsibilities. If your business has not addressed the issue of workplace violence in the past, let this bill be your wake-up call: protecting your personnel starts with creating rigorous plans and continues with using robust training, technology, and resources to mitigate violence.  

Legal and Financial Consequences of Not Creating a WVPP 

Failing to have a WVPP in place by July 1, 2024, could expose your business to various consequences. Cal/OSHA has the authority to issue citations and propose penalties for non-compliance. The severity of these penalties can vary depending on the nature of the violation, the size of your business, and any history of non-compliance.  

It’s still unclear exactly how or when Cal/OSHA might identify and crack down on companies that do not have a plan by the deadline, however.  

“What does compliance look like?” asks Ickes. “While the goal of the law is to identify and mitigate workplace violence risks, we have to assume that California will implement a compliance aspect, to verify companies are doing their due diligence. We do not know what that looks like yet.”  

Beyond potential financial repercussions, non-compliance can also leave your business vulnerable in other ways. In the tragic event of a workplace violence incident, the lack of a mandated WVPP could strengthen legal claims against your company. This could lead to costly lawsuits and damage your reputation, potentially impacting your ability to attract and retain talent. 

That’s why Ickes would tell clients that this law is only the first step in a larger discussion about what it means to protect your workforce. Investments in technology, training, and other mitigation tactics will have to accompany your work to stay compliant.  

Will Other States Pass Similar Legislation? 

This is a state law, not a federal law. That said, businesses and employees who don’t live in California should still note what SB 553 is mandating for those living in the country’s largest state.  

In general, California’s progressive policy landscape, large population, and economic influence makes it a trendsetter – other states are likely to at least take up discussions of what California’s legislature passes.  

Whether similar legislation will pass in other states is uncertain and depends on several factors. There is a growing awareness of the issue of workplace violence – according to the Department of Labor, approximately two million people throughout the country are victims of non-fatal violence at the workplace each year – which could create momentum for states to follow California's lead with similar legislation. 

“There have been discussions of similar legislation in other states that have historically had the same issues,” says Ickes. “I think if it works in California, we could see movement quickly in other states.” 

While California's SB 553 might not be directly replicated in every state, it serves as a significant precedent and could encourage similar legislation elsewhere. It's important to stay informed about developments in your specific state and consult with legal or policy experts for the most accurate and up-to-date information. 

Practical Guidance for Compliance with SB 553 

As discussed, there is a difference between compliance with this law and the mitigation of workplace violence. But if your business has not made strides towards doing either, beginning with compliance is a good first step.  

These recommendations will guide you through the process, empowering your business to protect employees and reap the rewards of a safer environment: 

  • Tailor your plan: Generic plans won't do. Craft a WVPP specific to your workplace risks and vulnerabilities. 
  • Document everything: Record meetings, training materials, risk assessments, and plan updates for easy reference and potential audits. 
  • Stay informed: Regularly check Cal/OSHA resources for updated regulations and best practices. 
  • Engage early: Involve employees in developing and implementing the plan. Their input and collaboration are valuable. 
  • Invest in training: Provide effective, interactive training tailored to different roles and risk levels. 
  • Open communication: Encourage employees to report potential hazards and concerns without fear of retaliation. 
  • Consult legal professionals: Ensure your plan complies with all legal requirements. 
  • Leverage expert resources: Utilize industry best practices, risk assessment tools, and training materials for a comprehensive approach. 

For organizations that need help getting started, Cal/OSHA has released a template for a workplace violence prevention plan. Find it on this page under the section for workplace violence.  Global Guardian also teamed up with Robin Welch Stearns of the Pacific Resilience Group to answer questions about SB 553 and related topics. 

SB 553 represents a step towards enhancing workplace safety in California. The rest of the country may soon follow suit. Employers must take proactive measures to comply with the new requirements, ensuring the safety and well-being of their employees. By understanding and implementing the provisions of SB 553, businesses can begin creating safer work environments and start the conversation about mitigating potential risks associated with workplace violence, regardless of where their business is located.  

Employers should already be doing the utmost to protect their employees from harm. If a workplace violence prevention plan and mitigation tactics are unfamiliar to you, or if you look at this bill as another box-checking exercise, it’s past time to get serious and make the effort not just be compliant, but a leader in your industry and to your personnel.  

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