California bill to mandate 'onerous and expensive' violence prevention plans

A California bill to mandate extensive workplace violence prevention plans passed the state legislature and now heads to the governor’s desk for approval. Opponents contend the bill will add significant costs to doing business in California, while supporters point out the bill only accelerates codification a state safety agency’s workplace violence prevention plan draft into law.

SB 553, drafted by Senator David Cortese, D-San Jose, requires that nearly all workplaces in California adopt workplace violence prevention plans, log instances of workplace violence, and allow employees to petition for restraining orders. Requirements for employers to provide active shooter training, and banned requiring “employees who are not dedicated safety personnel to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters,” which business owners perceived as requiring them to hire security staff, were removed from the final version. As justification for the bill, Cortese staff cited a New York Times analysis that found assaults in grocery stores grew by 63 percent from 2018 to 2020, and assaults in convenience stores grew by 75 percent.

An opposition letter to the bill from the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) stated “the initial workplace violence prevention plan training component for just one hour would be approximately $19 million in Proposition 98 dollars” for public school districts, a cost which “does not include the direct administrative costs for developing and revising the plan and associated record keeping.” Other state agencies would face similar costs, and costs to businesses could result in lower state tax income.

Senator Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, opposed the bill for shifting more costs for declining public safety onto businesses.

“If SB 553 is signed, businesses will be faced with onerous and expensive new mandates and penalties,” said Niello. “California business owners, especially those who run retail stores, are already faced with ongoing fear of smash-and-grab robberies and other crimes. Instead of holding the criminals accountable, SB 553 puts the burden of public safety on the business owners.”

According to a Senate analysis of the final version, workplace violence 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.”

The incident log for each violent incident would include “detailed description of the incident, a classification of who committed the violence, the working conditions at the time, the type of incident, and the consequences, including action taken to protect employees.”

SB 553 is based on the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s Workplace Violence General Industry Draft that has been in development for six years, and would accelerate formalization and adoption of these standards. Exceptions to SB 553 exist for small businesses that employ 10 or fewer workers and are not generally open to the public, and healthcare and corrections facilities, law enforcement agencies, and telework employees.

Opposition to the bill was a diverse coalition that included organizations ranging from the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce to the California County Superintendents. Support for the bill included the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and bill co-sponsor United Food and Commercial Workers.

“I’m grateful to my colleagues in the legislature for standing up for workers and businesses at this time of rising workplace violence,” said Cortese. “This groundbreaking bill represents a lengthy negotiation and collaboration between business and labor organizations.”

The California Retailers Association and the California Chamber of Commerce opposed earlier versions of the bill but dropped their opposition in its final form.


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