A newly-enacted law, Senate Bill 553, requires most California employers to establish and implement an effective, written workplace violence prevention plan (WVPP) containing specific information by July 1, 2024. The WVPP may be a stand-alone document, or incorporated as a separate section of an employer’s existing injury and illness prevention program. Workplace violence prevention training also is required.
Employers should start preparing now because purchasing “off-the-shelf” materials will not be effective. The Legislature recognized in drafting Senate Bill 553 that every workplace is unique. To prevent workplace violence, the WVPP and training must address the issues specific to the particular workplace.
Considerations When Preparing the WVPP
As employers prepare their WVPP, they should consider the attributes and hazards of their workplace, such as barriers between employees and visitors; the use of security technologies, such as surveillance cameras; employee work schedules, including location (onsite as opposed to remote, in a high crime area, etc.) and time of day; staffing levels; employee access to money; the work environment (do employees work around large numbers of people or in more isolated conditions; are they regularly exposed to people who have been drinking alcohol, or who are in distress); and the design of the workplace (lighting, visual obstruction, ability to escape if necessary, etc.).
The new law requires employers to actively involve employees in developing and implementing the WVPP. Employees are subject matter experts in their work environment, and have the most investment in ensuring their work environment is safe. Their knowledge and perspective will contribute to a more effective WVPP.
Employers may consider forming a committee, or utilizing an existing safety committee, to focus on developing, implementing and maintaining the WVPP. Ideally, the committee would include employees, authorized employee representatives, and representatives from HR, Legal, and safety/security departments. Front-line supervisors and members of upper management also should participate. Commitment from management is a critical component of a successful WVPP.
The WVPP must identify workplace hazards and potential corrective actions related to each of the four types of workplace violence identified by Cal/OSHA: (1) violence committed by persons with no legitimate business at the worksite, or persons who enter the workplace and approach employees with the intent to commit a crime; (2) violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or visitors; (3) violence directed at employees by a present or former employee, supervisor, or manager; and (4) violence committed by a person who does not work at the worksite, but has or is known to have had a personal relationship with an employee.
The WVPP must be easily accessible to employees and encourage employees to report concerns, threats, and incidents and seek assistance to prevent or respond to violence. It also must address procedures for the employer to respond to actual or potential workplace violence incidents. For example, does the employer have a threat assessment team or vendor with expertise to assess the seriousness and likelihood of a threat? Should the employer seek a temporary restraining order to protect employees? How will the employer alert employees when an incident is occurring? Where can employees safely go when evacuating? If evacuation is not possible, where can employees safely hide if necessary? Who is responsible for coordinating with law enforcement? What resources will be available to support employees after the incident?
Finally, the WVPP must contain procedures for post-incident response and investigation, including properly recording the incident in a “workplace violence log.” The WVPP should include procedures for evaluating its effectiveness after a workplace violence incident, reviewing it on at least an annual basis, and maintaining training records and records of workplace hazard identification, evaluation, and correction.
The Training Requirement
Employers must provide employees with training when the WVPP is first implemented, and annually thereafter. The committee that develops the WVPP should also be involved in designing the training or selecting a training provider to ensure the materials are appropriate for the educational level, literacy, and language of the employees, and effectively prepare employees to respond to actual or potential workplace violence incidents.
For example, employees who work with members of the public, and particularly in workplaces where there is a staffing shortage or customers are drinking alcohol, should receive training specific to recognizing behavioral cues to prevent customer (Type 2) violence and learn de-escalation techniques. HR representatives should receive training on appropriate techniques for employee terminations to prevent employee-on-employee (Type 3) violence.
When using an external training provider, ensure they are experienced in developing customized training programs and familiar with the requirements specified in Senate Bill 553. The training must include important definitions, inform employees about how to obtain a copy of the WVPP and how to report workplace violence concerns or incidents, and provide an opportunity for interactive questions and answers.