Workplace Violence Bill Is Unworkable for Small Employers

A California Chamber of Commerce-opposed bill that increases business costs and establishes a one-size-fits-all workplace violence regulation on all California employers was sent to the Suspense File by the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week pending a review of the bill’s fiscal impacts.

The bill, SB 553 (Cortese; D-San Jose), takes a regulation written for hospitals related to workplace violence and applies it to all workplaces, regardless of size and resources. The bill requires changes to workplace setup, equipment, and staffing across all industries.

The committee will revisit the many bills sent to the Suspense File before the Legislature adjourns for its interim recess next month.

Increases Costs, Sets Infeasible Provisions

In a recent opposition letter, the CalChamber warned legislators that SB 553’s compliance obligations are significant and apply to all employers in the state.

The bill requires training, recordkeeping, annual reviews, and hiring of additional full-time staff to “prevent and respond to workplace violence events during each shift.” 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 CalChamber pointed out that these costs are incredibly significant and will not be feasible for small businesses, and even larger businesses with tighter margins.

Moreover, if an employer fails any of SB 553’s requirements, it may face fines from $18,000 (initially) to $25,000 per violation.

For example: if an employer fails to sufficiently assess its workplace’s potential hazards under SB 553 Section 6401.9(b)(9)), it will be cited. It may then face an additional citation for failing to address the hazards that it failed to identify (under 6401.9(b)(10)), or ineffectively training employees regarding the issue it failed to identify (under 6401.9(e)(1)). In this way, an employer may face multiple citations under SB 553 despite no injuries having occurred, the CalChamber said.

Applies Regulation Meant for Hospitals to All Businesses

SB 553 writes the Healthcare Workplace Violence Standard into the Labor Code for all employers.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is drafting a general industry workplace violence regulation because their experts recognize that hospitals are not the same as most employers in California, the CalChamber said.

On the whole, hospitals are centralized (in one building or closely grouped structures), with highly trained and educated staff, distinct entrance/exit points, and have well-developed administrative and legal teams.

In addition, hospitals’ financial resources are far beyond most workplaces. The CalChamber pointed out that a small business, such as a restaurant with eight employees, doesn’t compare to a hospital.

“Hospitals simply are not the average employer in California—which is why Cal/OSHA chose not to apply the hospital standard to all employers,” the CalChamber said.

Restricts Retailers’ Ability to Approach Suspected Shoplifters

SB 553 specifically prohibits retailers from “confronting” any suspected shoplifter. Though recent amendments added an exception for “dedicated safety personnel,” most retailers cannot afford to have such personnel—making the amendment not helpful.

In light of California’s rampant issues with retail theft, SB 553 will make it even harder for small and medium-sized retailers to discourage theft, the CalChamber said.

Will Not Prevent Workplace Violence

SB 553 does not change the realities around workplace violence—namely, that it is a criminal matter that employers are not well-equipped to prevent.

An active shooter entering a workplace—while tragic—is not something most businesses (or public entities) are ever going to be equipped to handle, the CalChamber pointed out.

SB 553 will not summon armed guards to every retail establishment in the state, or improve police response times, or prevent oral threats from being spoken. Instead, it will, at its core, require businesses to keep more records of these events, and create administrative burdens to review these records repeatedly.

“While we do not dispute that recordkeeping can be an important part of justice—and certainly many regulations require records be kept—recordkeeping is not so urgent that the present regulatory process should be cut off. In other words: California can afford to get this regulation right via the Cal/OSHA process,” the CalChamber stressed.

Staff Contact: Robert Moutrie

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Robert Moutrie joined the CalChamber in March 2019 as a policy advocate. He was named a senior policy advocate starting January 1, 2024 in recognition of his efforts on behalf of members. He leads CalChamber advocacy on workplace safety, legal reform and protection, tourism, insurance, unemployment insurance, immigration and education. He is CalChamber's expert on the COVID-19 workplace regulation and was closely involved in its drafting and amendments process at Cal/OSHA. Moutrie has represented clients on matters such as consumer fraud litigation, civil rights, employment law claims, tort claims, and other business-related issues in federal and state courts. He previously served as an associate attorney at the Oakland-based firm of Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson. Moutrie earned a B.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. with honors from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. See full bio.