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On May 31, 2023, the California Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) No. 553 by a vote of 29–8. The legislation would establish new workplace violence prevention standards in California.

Quick Hits

  • The California Senate passed SB 553, a bill that would establish new workplace violence prevention standards in California.
  • SB 553 would require every California employer with at least one employee to “establish, implement, and maintain … a workplace violence prevention plan” and “record information in a violent incident log about every incident, postincident response, and workplace violence injury investigation.”
  • SB 553 would, among other things, prohibit employers from “maintaining policies that require employees to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters.”
  • SB 553 would authorize labor unions to seek temporary restraining orders (TROs) on behalf of employees based on workplace violence or credible threats of violence.
  • If approved by the California State Assembly and signed into law by the governor, the measure would take effect on January 1, 2024, and add Section 6401.9 to the California Labor Code.

State Senator Dave Cortese (D-15) gave an impassioned introduction to the legislation that he had sponsored, and he referenced shootings across the country during the recent Memorial Day weekend. Senator Cortese claimed that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has had its own standard in the planning stages for six years and asserted that the legislation would expedite worker protections. He noted that the proposed provisions in the legislation should not be applied to all California businesses, small or large, but he did not further explain this issue.

During the session, Senator Catherine Blakespear (D-38) expressed her support for SB 553, but she also voiced concerns about the legislation’s potential effect on small businesses and businesses with low numbers of employees. Senator Susan Rubio (D-22) expressed her support for the bill, though she shared her concerns about the bill’s taking a “one-size-fits-all approach” and specifically asked Senator Cortese to consider her concerns. Senator Shannon Grove (R-12) expressed her deep concern that the bill was redundant and overstepped Cal/OSHA’s work to develop general industry workplace violence prevention standards. Senator Richard Roth (D-31) lamented how long Cal/OSHA takes to draft and implement regulations. The bill now moves to the California State Assembly for committee hearings. Labor and Judiciary Committee hearings could begin in mid-June.

As currently drafted, SB 553 authorizes labor unions to seek temporary restraining orders (TROs) based on workplace violence or a credible threat of violence. The bill also requires a workplace violence prevention plan containing detailed written procedures and processes similar in scope to those of healthcare facilities and psychiatric hospitals, as well as “engineering controls” (such as “electronic access controls to employee-occupied areas, installed or handheld weapons detectors … and personal alarm devices”) and “work practice controls” (“such as security guards, employee training on workplace violence prevention methods, and employee training on procedures to follow in the event of a workplace violence incident.” The legislation also requires shoplifter training and active shooter training, and it specifically prohibits employers from “maintaining policies that require employees to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters.”

According to California Chamber of Commerce Policy Advocate Rob Moutri, “California’s employers—both public and private—should be very concerned about SB 553 because it requires all employers to meet workplace violence standards that exceed even those applied to hospitals under present regulations. Cal/OSHA staff specifically rejected using the hospital standard for all industries, and have spent years working on a general industry draft that makes sense for all of California’s workplaces. Sadly, SB 553 ignored those years of work and applies the hospital standard—with a few additional provisions—to even the smallest employer in the state.”

Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor developments with respect to SB 553 and Cal/OSHA’s proposed workplace violence prevention regulations and will provide updates on the firm’s California and Workplace Safety and Health blogs as additional information becomes available.

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