Legislature Passes Senator Cortese's SB 553: Preventing Workplace Violence

The California Legislature passed Senator Cortese’s Senate Bill (SB) 553 today, a bill to protect workers from workplace violence. SB 553 requires employers to develop their own workplace violence prevention plans as part of their Cal/OSHA Injury Illness Prevention Plans. Employees must be informed of these plans and prepare accordingly. The Senate passed the bill on a concurrence vote on Tuesday and the bill advances to the Governor for his signature.

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

Assaults in retail establishments rose during the pandemic, according to a 2022 analysis by the New York Times. The analysis found that assaults in grocery stores grew by 63 percent from 2018 to 2020, and assaults in convenience stores grew by 75 percent.

SB 553 was initially prompted by the 2021 massacre at the Valley Transportation Authority railyard in Senator Cortese’s legislative district of San Jose. In response to the VTA massacre, Senator Cortese helped establish a “Worker Wellness Center” to support grieving VTA individuals and families. Then last year, Governor Newsom signed Senator Cortese’s SB 1294, which established a plan to expand those transit worker wellness centers across the state.

As a key next step, Senate Bill (SB) 553 requires employers to develop their own workplace violence prevention plans. Under SB 553, these workplace violence prevention plans:

  1. Require all employers to maintain a Violent Incident Log of all violent incidents against employees as well as post-incident investigations.
  2. Require staff to know how to obtain help from the law enforcement or staff assigned to respond to workplace violence emergencies.  
  3. Allow an employee representative to be a petitioner for a temporary workplace violence restraining order.
  4. As part of maintaining the currently-required Injury Illness Prevention Plan, identify those responsible for implementing the plan, including roles, trainings, and protocols for assessing and reacting to threats of workplace violence. Employers must annually review the plan.
  5. Require employers to explain to employees how to report violent incidents without fear of retaliation, and how their concerns will be addressed.
  6. Lay out procedures for responding to violent emergencies, including alerts about emergencies, feasible evacuation or sheltering plans, and obtaining assistance from staff, security, or law enforcement.

For six years, Cal/OSHA has worked on a workplace violence prevention plan for businesses known as the Workplace Violence General Industry Draft. SB 553 would accelerate the creation of this standard by placing it into effect on July 1, 2024.

SB 553 is sponsored by United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The bill has no formal business opposition.

Earlier this year, Senator Cortese brought business and labor together to enact laws for flight attendants and airlines and motion picture workers and major Hollywood studios.