California law requires workplace violence prevention plan, other states could follow

May 7, 2024
California Bill 553, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last fall, requires all employers with more than 10 workers to enact workplace violence prevention plans by July 1. The new law has a long list of provisions to be met in planning, training and governance.

With the threat of violence looming over workplaces more than ever, the California legislature has passed a law likely to garner interest from other states looking to protect workers.

California Bill 553, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last fall, requires all employers with more than 10 workers to enact workplace violence prevention plans by July 1. The new law has a long list of provisions to be met in planning, training and governance.

The plan itself must include:

  • Clearly identified names or job titles of the individuals responsible for implementing the plan.
  • Be specific to the hazards and corrective measures for each work area and operation.
  • Procedures to identify and evaluate workplace violence hazards (risk assessment) and implement necessary corrective actions.
  • Details on a supporting training program
  • Methods to ensure active engagement and input from employees for the plan, as well as clearly articulated roles and responsibilities for reporting, investigation and recording of all qualifying incidents.
  • Procedures for the organization to accept and respond to reports of workplace violence.
  • Clearly articulated protocols for employees to report incidents of workplace violence, threats, and/or other concerns related to workplace violence.
  • Response procedures to workplace violence emergencies addressing the alert notification process, evacuation or sheltering plans, and how to obtain internal and external support.

Additionally, employers must record information in a violent-incident log for every workplace violence incident, and records pertaining to identification and correction of violence hazards must be kept for 5 years.

Training records must be maintained for at least one year and are required to include dates, a summary of content, names and qualifications of the trainers and names and job titles of all attendees.

If an employer fails to adhere to and/or properly implement the requirements, they may face a range of fines per violation. Additionally, companies can incur multiple fines per incident, depending on the range of violations.

Kate Colberg, Risk Advisory Lead for North America for the risk management firm

Red Flags Missed?

What spurred the law was the mass shooting incident in 2021 that occurred at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard in San Jose, Calif. A 57-year-old VTA employee, Sam J. Cassidy, shot and killed nine VTA employees before taking his own life.

Authorities investigating the case found there appeared to be clear warning signs that Cassidy had violent tendencies.

Cassidy's ex-wife described him as having anger issues and often being angry at his co-workers, and at the VTA, for what he believed to be its unfair work assignments. She also said he talked about killing people at his workplace more than a decade earlier.

A 2016 memo from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security described how, after taking a trip to the Philippines, Cassidy had been detained by officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection for inspection. They found books about terrorism in his possession, along with a memo book containing notes about his hatred of the VTA.

Local law enforcement officials said they were never warned by the feds about this interaction. A district attorney said had his office been alerted they would have been able to obtain a gun violence restraining order and seize Cassidy’s weapons.

An independent investigation into whether VTA could have done more to prevent the 2021 mass shooting in San Jose found the organization did not have enough information to prevent the attack, reported the San Jose Spotlight.

The public transit agency paid $8 million to settle a lawsuit filed by families of eight of nine victims killed in the shooting, who claimed VTA ignored numerous red flags about the shooter, the Spotlight reported.

The Response

Firms that help employers put together violence prevention plans expect to see a flurry of requests for support from companies that must meet the requirements, which have only a handful of exemptions.

Matthew Doherty, a retired Agent in Charge of the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, has spent the last 15 years at Sikich -- global company specializing in technology-enabled professional services -- putting together workplace violence prevention policies and programs together for employers. He said the legislation is “groundbreaking,” noting this is the first law requiring states to enforce workplace violence plans.

When the shooting happened, Sikich CEO Chris Geier and Doherty told San Jose media that training programs needed to be put in place by employers, noting there had been warning signs about the shooter.

“Usually when there's a shooting at a workplace, there's some association with the company. They could be terminated or suspended employees,” Doherty tells SecurityInfoWatch. “About 40% of women killed in the workplace are killed by an intimate partner, so it could be a domestic situation.

“A lot of folks think they have a plan, almost like an emergency management plan, which sits on the shelf and collects dust or they conflate the issue of an active shooter.

“That's not a workplace violence prevention plan. I'm confident that if you had a fight in the lobby of the building or a direct threat or a threat of physical violence or overt sexual harassment, it gets reported. This law is much broader. We are convinced other states will follow this standard and make it a law as opposed to a guideline or standard.”

Among other things, employers will be required to document specific types of workplace violence. One type would be criminal intent by someone who has no relationship to the business. A second type would be a customer, client, visitor, vendor, patient or student, and a third type would be worker-on-worker violence.

A fourth type would be personal relationships where workplace violence is committed by a person who doesn’t work at the business but has or is known to have had a personal relationship with an employee.

There are exemptions for employers with 10 or fewer employees, as well as for industries such as health care, law enforcement and corrections that have their own California OSHA requirements.

Doherty says Sikich typically provides potential clients with a checklist at no charge, so management understands what their plan does or doesn’t have.

For smaller businesses, Sikich will work with them to share policy templates and review whether proper assessments and records have been done.

Doherty emphasized that the workplace plan must be tailor-made to the specific environment, which means the policies and procedures could be different in a white-collar office vs. a manufacturing facility.

“You actually have to maintain a log of hazards and violent incidents as well as corrective actions taken for five years, which can be pretty daunting for someone that’s never had to do this before,” he says. “That’s why we're supplying templates to our new clients about this.”

Employee buy-in and training are critical to the success of violence prevention programs, so employees know the warning signs and red-flag behaviors to be concerned about, such as untreated mental health issues or suspected domestic abuse.

Managers must also emphasize that reporting concerns is not part of the disciplinary process. “You're not there to invade their privacy, but you're there to report,” he says.

“The program for workplace violence is the responsibility of every employee in the office. They're the front lines and the most valuable asset. How many times have you seen an active shooter where coworkers come out even before they identify the suspect and say, ‘We wouldn't be surprised if it's this particular worker. We've been concerned about him or her for months. We had nobody to report it to. We're unaware of any program.’”

Doherty says that in reviewing after-action reports and behavioral analyses at the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, “nobody just snaps and all of a sudden impulsively comes in and does these shootings or this harm. It's usually predicated upon an escalation of behaviors, and the key is to have early intervention to prevent it from happening in the first place.”

Doherty believes that federal OSHA is taking a close look at the law and other states such as Oregon and Washington could be likely to adopt similar legislation.

The Society of Human Resource Management, of which Sikich is a member, has noted that many employers are getting away from “zero-tolerance” policies moving toward non-punitive reporting.

“The biggest obstacle to reporting potential incidents of workplace violence or concerning situations is the fact that people don't want to get involved or get somebody in trouble,” Doherty says. “A lot of these situations should be reported so you can take appropriate action such as protecting somebody in your workforce that's a victim of domestic abuse."

John Dobberstein is managing editor of and oversees all content creation for the website. Dobberstein continues a 34-year decorated journalism career that has included stops at a variety of newspapers and B2B magazines.