Mar 12, 2024

What Is SB 553: What Employers Need to Know and How to Prepare in 2024

California Senate

    What Is SB 553: What Employers Need to Know and How to Prepare in 2024 

    Signed into law in 2023, this new workplace safety law mandates changes for California employers, to be enforced by Cal/OSHA starting July 2024 


    Read: SB 553 Explained: What It Is and How This Bill May Impact You  


    On September 30, 2023, a significant development in workplace safety regulation occurred when Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 553. This groundbreaking legislation mandates a comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP) for nearly all employers in California. Set to take effect on July 1, 2024, SB 553 represents a pioneering move, as it’s the first law of its kind nationwide to be applicable across various industries. The law encompasses critical aspects such as employee training on workplace violence hazards, maintaining a detailed violent incident log, other related records, and conducting regular reviews of the WVPP. The enforcement of these extensive requirements falls under the jurisdiction of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). 

    This legislative action follows a history of efforts to regulate workplace violence, particularly in non-healthcare sectors. It began with the enactment of SB 1299 in September 2014, focusing initially on healthcare facilities. This earlier bill led Cal/OSHA to establish a workplace violence prevention standard for healthcare, which took effect between 2017 and 2018. The push to expand these regulations to encompass all industries gained momentum in 2017, driven by a substantial petition from over 300,000 California teachers advocating for safer working conditions in education. Despite a stalled process in 2018, Cal/OSHA revisited its efforts in 2022, proposing a regulation covering a broader range of employers. SB 553 accelerates this process by codifying most of these proposed regulations into the California Labor Code as Section 6401.9. 

    While SB 553 lays the groundwork for immediate action, it also sets deadlines for Cal/OSHA to propose and adopt a more comprehensive general industry workplace violence prevention standard by the end of 2026. Until then, Cal/OSHA is authorized to enforce the current requirements under Section 6401.9 and may issue citations for any violations post the law’s effective date. 

    This FAQ is designed to address various queries regarding SB 553, providing detailed insights into its requirements and implications for California employers as they prepare to align with these new workplace safety standards. 


    Key Terms and Definitions 


    Workplace Violence: 

    “Workplace violence” means any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs in a place of employment. This includes the threat or use of physical force against an employee that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, psychological trauma, or stress, regardless of whether the employee sustains an injury, and incidents involving a threat or use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, including the use of common objects as weapons.  


    Threat of Violence:

    As defined in SB 553, a “threat of violence” includes any verbal or written statement, including but not limited to texts, electronic messages, social media messages, or other online posts, or any behavioral or physical conduct that conveys an intent or is reasonably perceived to convey an intent to cause physical harm or to place someone in fear of physical harm, and serves no legitimate purpose.  


    Types of Workplace Violence 

    SB 553 outlines four types of workplace violence: 

    • Type 1 Violence: Committed by a person who has no legitimate business at the worksite, including violent acts by anyone who enters the workplace or approaches workers with the intent to commit a crime.
    • Type 2 Violence: Directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or visitors. 
    • Type 3 Violence: Against an employee by a present or former employee, supervisor, or manager. 
    • Type 4 Violence: Committed in the workplace by a person who does not work there but has or is known to have had a personal relationship with an employee. 

    “Workplace violence” does not include lawful acts of self-defense or defense of others. These definitions provide a framework for understanding and addressing different scenarios of violence in the workplace, as mandated by SB 553.  


    Additional resources and information


    SB 553 FAQ  


    What is SB 553 and when does it become effective?  

    SB 553, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 30, 2023, establishes a new written Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP) requirement for nearly all California employers. This law becomes effective on July 1, 2024.  The new law does not have any built-in grace period. 


    What prompted the creation of SB 553?  

    The initial push for SB 553 began around January 2017, focusing on regulating workplace violence in non-healthcare industries. Dissatisfaction with the pace of Cal/OSHA’s rulemaking process led to the drafting of SB 553 to accelerate the standard’s promulgation. 


    Who is Covered by SB 553?  

    Most California employers, excluding: 

    • Employers already covered by the Workplace Violence Prevention in Healthcare standard. 
    • Employees teleworking from uncontrolled locations. 
    • Workplaces not accessible to the public with less than 10 employees present. 
    • Facilities operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and law enforcement agencies. 


    How is Workplace Violence Defined?  

    Workplace violence includes any act of violence or threat of violence occurring in a place of employment, including physical force or threats resulting in or likely to result in injury, psychological trauma, or stress. 


    What is NOT considered a threat of violence?  

    Normal, socially acceptable interactions, legitimate sporting activities, popular entertainment, current events, and policy disagreements related to violence discussed in class are not considered threats. 


    Is workplace violence preventable?  

    While complete prevention may not be possible for all types, implementing comprehensive preventative measures (assessments, escalation protocols, investigation of complaints, etc.) and response plans (reporting and communication protocols) can significantly mitigate risks. 


    What are the Essential Elements of a WVPP?  

    The WVPP must include: 

    • Responsible Personnel: Designate individuals responsible for the WVPP, recommending more than one person for this role. 
    • Employee Input and Enforcement: Develop procedures for obtaining input from employees on the plan and its enforcement. 
    • Training Procedures: Establish comprehensive training procedures covering all aspects of the WVPP. 
    • Incident Reporting: Create procedures for reporting both potential and actual workplace violence incidents. 
    • Incident Investigation: Implement procedures for investigating potential workplace violence incidents and issues. 
    • Plan Implementation: Set procedures for the plan’s implementation, including periodic inspections, annual reviews, and ensuring comprehensive training for all employees. 
    • Anti-Retaliation Clause: Incorporate an anti-retaliation clause to protect employees who report workplace violence. 
    • Role Coordination: Develop procedures for coordinating roles between supervisors and management. 
    • Interdepartmental Communication: Establish communication procedures between departments or shifts, as necessary for specific job positions. 
    • Training Development: Focus on developing effective training procedures. 
    • Risk Identification: Identify environmental and other risk factors, including considerations for contingent workers, temporary staff, and remote employees. 
    • Risk Evaluation and Control Development: Create procedures for evaluating specific work-related risks (e.g., customer interactions, security roles) and developing appropriate controls, including engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment. 
    • Recordkeeping: Implement procedures for maintaining records, including workplace violence incident logs. 
    • Post-Incident Response and Investigation: Establish emergency response procedures and investigation protocols for incidents that occur. 


    Does the law require employers to report workplace violence events to Cal/OSHA? 

    Employers need to report only “serious” injuries or fatalities as required by Title 8 CCR §330(h) and §342. This law did not establish new reporting requirements. 


    Does SB 553 Apply to Employers and Employees Outside California?  

    SB 553 only applies to California employers and their California employees. 


    How Should Employers Make the WVPP Accessible to Employees?  

    Employers can post their WVPP on a company intranet, in binders on the worksite, or on bulletin boards in common areas. 


    Can the WVPP be Integrated into the IIPP?  

    Yes, the WVPP can either be part of the IIPP or a standalone plan. 


    What Training is Required Under SB 553?  

    Employers must provide training covering: 

    • The employer’s WVPP; 
    • How to obtain a copy of the WVPP at no cost; 
    • How to participate in development and implementation of the WVPP; 
    • The definitions and requirements under Section 6401.9; 
    • How to report workplace violence incidents or concerns to the employer or law enforcement without fear of reprisal; 
    • Information regarding workplace violence hazards specific to the employees’ jobs; 
    • Corrective measures that the employer has implemented; 
    • How employees can “seek assistance to prevent or respond to violence, and strategies to avoid physical harm;” and 
    • The employer’s violence incident log and how to obtain copies of required records. 


    Employers must provide the above training when the WVPP is first established and annually thereafter.  

    As part of the training, employers also must provide employees with an opportunity for interactive questions and answers with a person knowledgeable about the WVPP.  

    Additional training must take place when a new or previously unrecognized workplace violence hazard has been identified or when changes are made to the WVPP (but may be limited to addressing the new hazard or change). 


    What is meant by “interactive questions and answers”?  

    This refers to a specific component of training programs as part of the WVPP. In this context, it means that during the training sessions, employees should be given a chance to engage in a two-way communication process with a trainer or a representative who is well-versed in the specifics of the employer’s WVPP. Aspects of this interactive Q&A opportunity may include: 

    • Accessibility of Knowledgeable Personnel: Employees should have access to individuals (such as HR representatives, safety officers, or management staff) who have a thorough understanding of the WVPP during the training sessions. 
    • Active Engagement: Employees are encouraged to actively participate in the training by asking questions and discussing scenarios, concerns, or clarifications related to the WVPP. 
    • Two-Way Communication: The format should encourage dialogue rather than a one-way dissemination of information, allowing for a more dynamic and engaging learning environment. 
    • Clarification and Understanding: This interaction is intended to help employees better understand the policies, procedures, and actions outlined in the WVPP, and how these apply to their specific roles and work environments. 
    • Feedback Opportunity: It also provides an opportunity for the trainers to receive feedback on the WVPP’s effectiveness, potential areas of improvement, and insights into the employees’ perspective on workplace safety. 
    • Reinforcement of Learning: Engaging employees through questions and answers can reinforce the learning objectives of the training, ensuring that the information is not only received but understood and retained. 


    Is it necessary for an employer to conduct Active Shooter Training under SB 553? 

    While Active Shooter Training is not specifically mentioned in SB 553, it is advisable under the General Duty Clause in the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). Given the frequency of mass shootings in California in 2023, with an incident occurring every six days, this type of training is becoming increasingly important. However, employers should be aware of the potential legal liability if an employee is injured or killed as a result of following the training. Despite this, there are excellent resources available for Active Shooter Training, often at no cost. These include the Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” program and guidance offered by local police departments. Employers may also consider partnering with local police or third-party trainers for comprehensive training. 


    Does each worksite have to have a customized plan or is one general workplace violence plan acceptable? 

    If different worksites present different hazards, then the workplace violence plan would need to be tailored to the different worksites. Conversely, if worksites share similar hazards, the plan can likely be more uniform across a larger footprint. For example, a retail employer might have stores and distribution centers—and the plans would have some similar elements—but having different workplace violence hazards would likely require plan customization for each location. 


    How does an employer handle multiemployer worksites such as construction sites, vendor situations, or sites with temporary staff where there are employees from other employers? 

    An employer must coordinate the implementation of the plan with other employers on a multiemployer worksite.  


    What are the Recordkeeping Requirements?  

    Employers must create and maintain training records for at least one year and other records like hazard assessments, violent incident logs, and incident investigations for at least five years. 


    What is required for the Violent Incident Log?  

    Employers must maintain a log for every workplace violence incident, including: 

    • Date, Time, and Location of the Incident: The log must record the specific date, time, and location where each violent incident occurred. 
    • Identification of the Type of Workplace Violence: The log should classify the incident according to the types of workplace violence as defined in the bill. 
    • Detailed Description of the Incident: A comprehensive description of what occurred during the incident is required. This includes the nature of the violence and how it unfolded. 
    • Classification of the Perpetrator: Information on who committed the violence should be included. This could be a client, customer, stranger with criminal intent, coworker, supervisor, manager, partner, spouse, parent, relative, or other. 
    • Circumstances at the Time of the Incident: The log should detail the circumstances under which the incident occurred, such as whether the employee was performing usual job duties, working in poorly lit areas, working during a low staffing level, or in an unfamiliar location. 
    • Consequences of the Incident: Information on whether security or law enforcement was contacted, their response, and actions taken to protect employees from a continuing threat or from any other hazards identified as a result of the incident. 
    • Person Completing the Log: The name, job title, and the date when the log was completed by the individual recording the incident. 


    Do workplace violence incidents also go on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Log of Injuries and Illnesses (the OSHA Form 300 log)? 

    Employers are required to record information on the 300 log only if an employee was injured and meets the requirements of recording on the 300 log. 


    Are Animal Attacks Considered Workplace Violence Under SB 553?  

    Yes, animal attacks are included in the required violent incident log under SB 553. 


    What Considerations Should Employers Make for Workplace Locations?  

    If different hazards exist at different locations, a customized WVPP is needed. If hazards are consistent across all sites, a more uniform plan can be used. 


    Will Cal/OSHA Publish a Model Program?  

    Yes. It can be accessed on the Cal/OSHA Publications page here: Workplace Violence Prevention


    What Actions Should Employers Take in Preparation for SB 553 Compliance?  

    Employers should begin developing and implementing their WVPP now, considering Cal/OSHA’s focus on workplace violence prevention and recent citations issued for workplace violence issues. 



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