New California Laws Help Stop Workplace Violence
In response to findings by federal researchers, investigative journalists, and government watchdogs, California has passed two new laws designed to protect vulnerable workers from workplace violence. On the healthcare side, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) unanimously passed a new General Industry Safety Order (Order) that requires employers of healthcare facilities to establish, implement and maintain an effective workplace violence prevention plan. The Order will be effective on April 1, 2017. In a similar victory for janitorial workers, AB 1978 legally requires janitors and their supervisors to complete sexual harassment training beginning in 2019.
Among other provisions, the new healthcare violence prevention plan requires employers to establish a number of procedures including those for effective identification of risk factors, dissemination and compliance of protocol, and post-incident investigations. Littler Mendelson’s summary states that the Order also requires employers “to provide training to employees designed to address the workplace violence risks that employees are reasonably anticipated to encounter in their jobs.” AB 1978, by contrast, requires janitorial services to undergo biennial in-person sexual violence and harassment prevention training.
Healthcare and janitorial workers face disproportionate amounts of workplace violence compared to other professions. According to research conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), rates of nonfatal workplace violence against healthcare workers are 5 to 12 times higher (depending on the type of facility) than estimated rates against workers overall. Reports of such incidents have only been increasing in recent years. The attackers in the majority of these incidents are patients, followed by patients’ family and visitors. The report notes that “health care occupations like psychiatric aides, psychiatric technicians, and nursing assistants experienced high rates of workplace violence compared to other health care occupations and workers overall.”
Though accurate numbers regarding violence are difficult to obtain due to the nature of the industry, janitorial workers face some of the highest rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses with days away from work, comparable to those faced by firefighters, police officers, and correctional officers. An award-winning collaboration between FRONTLINE (PBS), Univision, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), the Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) at UC Berkeley, and KQED revealed that working conditions for immigrant janitorial staff are rife with sexual abuse with little to no managerial oversight. These new laws are attempts at preventing and responding to such abuses. As attorney Minsu Longiaru notes, “AB 1978 was passed as a result of the organizing efforts of California janitors. These efforts included a five-day fast in front of the state Capitol by 18 female janitors, most all of whom are survivors of rape or abuse.”
The passage of these laws serves as a powerful reminder that while in many corporate fields mandatory compliance training has become part of the background noise in the commotion of well-regulated industry, it nevertheless remains a crucial component in protecting some of the most vulnerable workers from abuses of power.
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The content of this blog was reviewed by an attorney on the LawRoom staff for legal accuracy.