7 tips for California employers’ violence prevention plans

A new state law requires the vast majority of California employers to implement workplace violence prevention plans by July 1, Cozen O’Connor attorneys said in a recent webinar. And while the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, is tasked with setting standards for compliance, it’s possible employers won’t see that guidance before the law’s effective date.

Still, the statute sets out some requirements, and there are a number of things employers can do to aim for compliance, the attorneys said, recommending a focus on plain-language and accessibility, among other things. 

1. Consider a stand-alone policy.

Employers in California already must have an injury and illness prevention plan and could potentially connect that and the new violence prevention plan. But it may be worth keeping them separate because the violence prevention plan must be reviewed annually, Elena K. Hillman, of counsel with the firm, said during the Feb. 21 event. Employers may want to house the plan separately from the employee handbook for the same reason.

2. Ensure accessibility.

An employer’s plan must be easily accessible to employees, Hillman said. If someone asks to see it, the document should be readily available online or in a break room, for example. Similarly, an employer may need to have its plan translated into different languages.

3. Strive for specificity.

The plan must be specific to the hazards for each work area, Hillman said; a general plan that says it will identify hazards is not going to cut it. This means “you actually have to do [an] assessment at every work location,” Daniel R. Pascale, CEO of Cosecure Enterprise Risk Solutions, an ancillary business of Cozen O’Connor, said.

4. Get input.

Employers must involve employees in creating and implementing the plan, Hillman said. A business could survey employees, asking them to express any concerns or issues they’ve had with security, workplace violence or similar hazards. Some employers will do it via a safety committee with authorized representatives to address issues, she said; some might do it through a suggestion box. Pascale agreed: “It will be essential for you to include employees who have great familiarity with each work location, and ultimately, the types of threats that they’re facing.”

5. Identify responsible individuals.

The plan must identify the name and job title of the person responsible for implementing the plan, Hillman said. And if that’s a shared responsibility, it should indicate which pieces each individual owns. It’s also crucial that the plan spell out how employees should escalate concerns, she continued.

6. Explain how reports will be investigated.

The plan should indicate how concerns will be investigated and how employees will be informed of the results of any investigation and any corrective actions, according to Hillman.

7. Include an anti-reprisal clause.

Hillman said employer plans must include anti-reprisal clauses and should “really emphasize that employees will not be disciplined or suffer from retaliation for in-good-faith reporting workplace violence, hazards and issues.”

Beyond the plan

California’s law sets out other specifics for the required plans, but also mandates training and record retention. 

And as for enforcement, it remains to be seen just how and when Cal/OSHA will be reviewing employers’ plans and related activities. The agency may not have the manpower to consistently audit employer compliance, John R. Carrigan Jr., member of the firm, said during the webinar. It’s possible that compliance instead may be reviewed when an incident occurs or amid a negligence claim, and that noncompliance could be used to allege negligence, he said; “so I think it’s important that we all do what we can to comply with the statute.”