California has enacted SB 553 which requires all employers, with few exceptions, to design, implement, and maintain workplace violence prevention plans (“WVPP”) by July 1, 2024. The new law, added as Labor Code Section 6401.9, promises to pose a challenge for California employers as they seek to comply with its complex rules.
The law adds WVPPs as a mandatory portion of an employer’s injury and illness prevention program (“IIPP”). WVPPs may also be maintained as a separate document from the IIPP. WVPPs will be structured like IIPPs and will require an employer to designate the person responsible for implementing the program, identify and correct hazards through periodic inspections, train employees on hazards, and maintain records of incidents.
The law requires employers “to obtain the active involvement of employees” and any unions “in developing and implementing the plan, [and], in designing and implementing training.” Unionized employers will be confronted with how to obtain the employees’ “active involvement” in those tasks.
Additionally, the law requires employers to train employees on numerous topics, including:
- The law’s definitions and requirements
- The WVPP itself, the documentation required under the plan
- How to report incidents and concerns
- The ways employees can participate in the WVPP’s development and implementation.
- The law mandates that employers train employees on “workplace violence hazards specific to the employees’ jobs and strategies to avoid physical harm
- Requires employers to have a training that provides an opportunity for interactive questions and answers with a person knowledgeable about the employer’s plan
This means that an employer with thousands of employees will need to train all its numerous employees, even though their various, differing positions, may require them to learn different “strategies to avoid physical harm” during interactive training sessions. Employee involvement and complex training obligations are merely two examples of the law’s many requirements that will likely prove extremely challenging for employers to implement.
The law also requires employers to maintain various records, including a separate violent incident log, records of the employees’ training, and records of workplace violence investigations. Under the new law, employee concerns of workplace violence must be investigated as part of the employer’s responsibility to identify and correct workplace hazards, and then the results of the investigation must be communicated to the employee.
Employers also have a duty to conduct an investigation after incidents of workplace violence. Given the broad definition of workplace violence as any “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,” these new investigative and record-keeping requirements could impose significant administrative burden on employers.
Finally, unlike an IIPP, SB 553 specifically calls for the participation of unions in many of the key actions required by WVPPs, such as developing, implementing, and revising the WVPP and designing training on workplace violence. Given the labor movement’s newfound energy, employers with collective bargaining relationships should be prepared for active union involvement in all these processes.
Sources: various employment law firms.