Will Senate Bill 553 Be a Boon or a Bane to California Businesses?

As retail stores across the country continue to experience incidents of violence, one state has taken a significant step toward preventing it.

California Senate Bill 553, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom last September, is the first legislation of its kind to address workplace violence and mandate that affected employers adopt a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan (WVPP). The law goes into effect on July 1.

According to the California Department of Justice, the state has seen an uptick in robberies, which increased by almost 10 percent in 2022. The Los Angeles Police Department reported last year that shoplifting and assaults have also increased since 2022.

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Most California businesses must comply with SB 553, except for a few industries, such as healthcare facilities and service categories. Companies that don’t comply can face citations by the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Cal/OSHA), including fines of up to $25,000. 

What SB 553 Entails

SB 553 effectively takes a regulation related to workplace violence written for hospitals and applies it to any workplace.

The two major requirements of the law are a written WVPP and employee training based on the plan.

Violence, as far as SB 553 is concerned, includes any act or threat that occurs in a place of employment. This includes physical force, weapons, harassment, intimidation, or any physical or verbal disruptive behavior jeopardizing employees’ safety and well-being. It doesn’t matter who commits or threatens the violence—it could be a fellow or former employee, a customer, family members, community members, contractors, or individuals with no connection to the business.

Some of the procedures SB 553 mandates covered California businesses implement include:

  • Responding to workplace violence and prohibiting retaliation against employees who report workplace violence
  • Ensuring compliance with the WVPP
  • Communicating with employees regarding workplace violence matters
  • Developing and providing training on the employer’s WVPP
  • Identifying and evaluating workplace violence hazards via assessments
  • Correcting workplace violence hazards promptly
  • Executing post-incident response and investigation

In addition to developing and implementing a WVPP, covered employers must also “record information in a violent incident log about every incident, post-incident, response, and workplace violation injury investigation” performed under the workplace violence prevention plan. The log must include the incident’s date, time, and location, a detailed description, a classification of who committed the act, and other details.

California employers subject to the law must also review and update their WVPPs annually, evaluate the incidents, and maintain records of previously identified workplace violence hazards.

Reaction to the Bill

Some California organizations and businesses are against SB 553 for several reasons.

Implementing the WVPP could require costly and laborious workplace setup, equipment, and staffing changes, especially for smaller businesses and even larger ones with tighter margins, according to the California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber), which opposes the legislation.

In an article by CalChamber policy advocate Robert Moutrie, he said the group warned legislators in an opposition letter last summer that SB 553’s compliance obligations are significant.

“The bill requires training, record keeping, annual reviews, and hiring of additional full-time staff to ‘prevent and respond to workplace violence events during each shift,'” he wrote. “This includes hiring security personnel, as well as engineering controls, such as physical barriers. In addition, if even a minor workplace violence event occurs (such as a threat by a drunk patron toward a bouncer), then the employer must make available individual counseling to all employees affected.”

The bill also received backlash from small business owners in California over the summer, mainly because it prohibits non-security workers from confronting active shoplifters. For smaller retailers without robust security measures or personnel in place, the notion of being unable to personally stop a theft in progress or defend themselves or other employees against violent acts raises concerns about physical safety and revenue.

Large retailers in California that LP Magazine contacted for this story declined to comment.

How Your Business Can Prepare to Comply by July

Whether you’re for or against SB 553, all California businesses subject to the law should start preparing their WVPPs if they haven’t already. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Collaborate Cross-Company: A WVPP must include a multidisciplinary group that extends beyond loss prevention to human resources, legal, facilities, IT, and other departments.
  • Tee Up the Training: It could be wise to engage experts outside your business to help design and deliver your training curriculum based on your organization’s needs. Consider whether onsite or virtual training is the best fit for your business. Training topics can include strategies to avoid physical harm, violence warning signs to monitor, and prevention and response.
  • Vet Your Threats: Consider conducting a vulnerability assessment at your business to identify internal and external threats, such as the store layout, security measures, and existing plans.
  • Reassess and Revise: SB 553 clarifies that businesses must annually review and update their WVPP. There will always be new and emerging threats of violence to monitor, so update your WVPP as your business needs evolve.

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