Navigating Workplace Violence Laws: An Employer's Guide

Debra K. Kirby, JD, MA

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Apr 9, 2024

Workplace violence is a major concern affecting countless American workers and their employers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies it as the second-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries, stressing the need for thorough action.

Workplace Violence Legislation

Recent legislative moves in California, Texas and New York show an increasing acknowledgement of the importance of preventing and addressing workplace violence.

  • In California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 553 into law, effective July 1, 2024. This bill requires employers to establish workplace violence protection plans, including incident logs and employee training on reporting procedures. Additionally, it empowers collective bargaining representatives to seek restraining orders for affected workers.
  • Similarly, Texas implemented the Workplace Violence Prevention Act, focusing on health care facilities. This law mandates creating prevention committees, developing violence prevention plans, implementing response protocols and completing annual employee training. The Reporting Workplace Violence Act complements these efforts by mandating employers display contact information for reporting incidents.
  • New York State’s proposed Retail Worker Safety Act (Senate Bill S8358) aims to safeguard retail employees. If approved, it will require employers to evaluate violence hazards, create comprehensive prevention plans, offer training on de-escalation tactics and active shooter drills, and install panic buttons in certain establishments.

These legislative actions underscore a broader trend across the country where the prevalence of workplace violence is a call to action. Health care settings, in particular, face significant risks, prompting many states to implement specific regulations requiring prevention programs in addition to the standards established by the Joint Commission. Increasingly, employers need to understand the changing legal landscape as well as their responsibilities when it comes to complying with the law and improving employee safety.

Key Takeaways for Employers

  • Proactive Planning. Ensure you have comprehensive workplace violence protection policies that address the range of potential threats – from verbal through active shooter/assailant – with defined reporting and response requirements.
  • Documentation and Reporting. Ensure employees are supported in reporting incidents without fear of retaliation. Task a specific role/person to maintain detailed incident logs, including the outcomes of incident assessments and investigations.
  • Threat Identification. Regularly assess reported incidents and behaviors that contribute to workplace violence hazards through inspections and team member feedback.
  • Training and Communication. Ensure ongoing training in workplace violence prevention policies. Provide training on identifying warning signs of violence and equip managers with appropriate intervention tools and response protocols.

By prioritizing workplace violence prevention policies and practices, including compliance with relevant laws, employers can create safer environments for their employees while mitigating legal and reputational risks. Through proactive program development, employers can significantly enhance workplace safety and protect employees and business interests. Our team is here to assist you throughout the process.

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About the author

Debra K. Kirby
Debra brings command experience in patrol operations, investigations, organized crime, law enforcement training, policy development, data-led policing and internal affairs with an acute focus on integrity systems, covert operations and the need for strong accountability practices in support of operational priorities.