California Workplace Violence Law a Best Practice No Matter What State You’re in

California Senate Bill 553 is groundbreaking legislation that aims to prevent workplace violence and enhance employee safety and security in California. The law elevates California’s commitment to protecting workers, customers, and companies by recognizing the impact of workplace violence and providing a baseline for managing risks.

Workplace safety is not just a legal requirement—it’s a moral imperative. Whether in California or any other state, taking a proactive stance on violence prevention is a best practice for all employers.

Signed into law in September 2023, SB 553 takes effect on July 1. Failure to comply with the law may result in fines, penalties, lawsuits, reputational damage, and loss of productivity, among other costs.

So, what do you need to know about this new and important law?

How will it affect workplace violence policies?
Matt Doherty

This law is a game-changer. Companies cannot ignore the inherent risks of workplace conflict and potential violence. This law provides a framework that lays the foundation for a safer workplace, one that makes proactive prevention a reality. Too many companies I have encountered have a one-sentence statement in their employee handbook: “Workplace violence will not be tolerated.”

To be compliant with SB 553, employers must develop and implement a written workplace violence prevention plan (WVPP) tailored to their specific hazards and risks. According to the law, the plan must actively involve employees in the WVPP, provide specific training to the entire workforce, keep records of a broad spectrum of workplace violence incidents and hazards, record investigations, document corrective actions and develop mitigation plans to keep your company safe. It sounds like a lot, but this requirement significantly improves the chances of preventing another tragic event and provides guidance on how to navigate these challenges.

Do companies understand the full scope of workplace violence?

In my experience, many people do not understand the full spectrum of workplace violence and think this term refers solely to someone bringing a gun to the workplace and shooting people.

Many of us think of workplace violence as an “active shooter” event or a fight or physical altercation between workers. Workplace violence encompasses that and more. It also includes threats of violence, which can be any verbal or written statements, including texts and social media posts, or any behavior that a reasonable person would perceive as threatening or causing fear. It includes additional concerns such as domestic violence spilling into the workplace, suicidal ideations, mental health issues and harassment.

What types of workplace violence must be documented?

Workplace violence can manifest in various forms. It’s crucial to document each type for effective mitigation and response, as well as to comply with requirements:

  1. Criminal Intent: Violence by individuals with no legitimate business at the worksite.
  2. Customer/Client/Visitor/Vendor: Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, or visitors.
  3. Worker on Worker: Violence against an employee by another current or former employee.
  4. Personal Relationship: Violence by individuals with personal connections to employees, even if they don’t work there.
What holds companies back from ensuring a safe environment?

Often, companies don’t know what to do. A small company doesn’t have dedicated personnel to develop a comprehensive program. As humans, we often default to a reactive stance rather than a proactive one, and we rationalize that private lives are strictly separate from our work. But employers have a responsibility to ensure safety in the workplace regardless of the reason.

A serious incident exposes a company to significant financial and reputational risks and makes prevention efforts crucial. These efforts can deliver benefits like improved morale, retention, recruitment and the bottom line. Prevention is a minimal investment when considering the cost of injuries, fatalities, recovery, lawsuits and reputational damage.

What steps should California-based companies take for compliance?

Employers should get started right away, because compliance will take significant effort. Don’t wait until the last minute to implement your prevention program. Treat the deadline for implementing a WVPP program as a motivator to avoid penalties and ensure seamless compliance.

Review the legislation thoroughly and understand the ramifications of non-compliance as well as the protections offered by adhering to industry standards.

Companies should follow these steps:

Developing a WVPP may seem like a big undertaking, but there are third-party experts with the tools and guidance to help put you on the path to compliance. While workplace safety from violence is now a legal requirement in California, it is a best practice for employers nationwide. Following the guidance of SB 553 and implementing a WVPP is a strong place to start when it comes to establishing a safe, respectful workplace.

Doherty is managing director of the workforce risk management team at professional services firm Sikich. He previously served in the U.S. Secret Service as the U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the National Threat Assessment Center, where he received a commendation for creating one of the first information-sharing databases for the prevention of violence against protected officials. Email: