Workplace violence is defined as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” Regrettably, incidences of workplace violence occur all too often in businesses across the United States. According to Officials at the Department of Justice, each year “approximately two million people throughout the country” fall victim to non-fatal episodes of workplace violence. It’s clear that workplace violence is a serious problem facing employers today, but just how can it be prevented? Well, many states seem to believe that the way forward lies in workplace violence prevention plans.
California Senate Bill 553
The California State Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 553, which some deem to be “the most prominent workplace violence bill.” Senate Bill 553 requires nearly all employers within the State of California to establish workplace violence prevention plans, provide their employees with workplace violence training, and begin logging incidences of violence that occur within the workplace. Notably, Senate Bill 553 requires employers to “obtain the active involvement of employees . . . in identifying, evaluating, and correcting workplace violence hazards.”
Senator Dave Cortese, who authored the bill, stated that it was “the result of a months-long negotiation between workers, businesses, and California/OSHA . . . [designed to] help workers and employers establish a plan for the types of workplace violence that are on the rise.”
Increased State Legislation to Thwart Workplace Violence
Since California passed Senate Bill 553, the topic of workplace violence has garnered renewed attention from state lawmakers nationwide. During the first few months of 2023, over one hundred bills mentioning workplace violence were introduced within twenty-seven states. Of those hundred bills, approximately 25% were adopted and 50% remain pending.
Approximately one-third of all recent bills mentioning workplace violence are “focused on trying to prevent such violence in health care settings.” This is because workers in the health care and social service industries “experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence.” Specifically, workers in these industries are five times more likely to suffer an injury from workplace violence than others.
Other proposed bills aim to mitigate incidences of workplace violence in public schools. In September 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law requiring state public schools “to develop and execute programs to prevent workplace violence.” Although New York is the first state to mandate such rigorous safety standards, “the move could inspire similar regulations in other states.”
Considerations When Creating a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan
Due to growing concerns for workplace safety, it’s likely that more states will begin to require employers to develop workplace violence prevention plans. When drafting such plans, employers would be well-advised to consider existing guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”). OSHA has identified five building blocks for developing an effective workplace violence prevention plan, including: (1) management commitment and employee participation; (2) worksite analysis; (3) hazard prevention and control; (4) safety and health training; and (5) recordkeeping and program evaluation.
Although no employers are totally immune from workplace violence, workplace violence prevention plans can be an effective tool for promoting a safe working environment.
It would be nice if New Jersey was next in mandating safe workplaces. Or better still, for employers here to take the initiative and make their own policies and procedures.
Katherine Farmer is a third-year law student at Seton Hall University School of Law, where she works as an Associate Editor for the Law Review, Vol. 54. Katherine is also the Social Chair of the Corporate Law Society at Seton Hall Law.