Contact Us

What Hotel Owners Need to Know About California’s Workplace Investigations Law

May 17, 2024

[NOTE: The article “What hotel owners need to know about California’s workplace investigations law” originally appeared on Hotel Dive on May 17, 2024.]

Senate Bill 553, aimed at preventing and addressing workplace violence, is applicable to all California employers — including hotel business owners.

The following is a guest post from Rachel Reddick, AWI-CH, an attorney investigator with Oppenheimer Investigations Group, where her practice concentrates on conducting impartial workplace investigations. Opinions are the author’s own.

By Rachel Reddick

In response to growing concerns over the rise of workplace violence, the California Legislature has continued its efforts to promote workplace safety. Those efforts resulted in Senate Bill 553, signed into law in September 2023, which mandates that employers establish, implement and maintain a comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Plan, among other preventative measures.

The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) will enforce the law starting July 1. SB 553 applies to all California employers — including hotel business owners, even though they are uniquely situated.

With the deadline for compliance approaching, Cal/OSHA has published a model Workplace Violence Prevention Plan. While this model is an excellent resource, hotel business owners should be aware that their plan must be tailored to their workplace’s unique needs, so it can be implemented and maintained, not merely established.

The issue of workplace violence

SB 553 requires that workplace violence incidents are reported, investigated and recorded. Hotel owners should not overlook the necessity of an investigation after a threat of violence or a workplace violence incident.

Under Labor Code Section 6401.9, any incident involving “workplace violence” or a “threat of violence” triggers when an investigation will be required. “Workplace violence” is defined as “any act of violence that occurs in a place of employment,” including “[t]he threat or use of physical force against an employee that results in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in, injury, psychological trauma, or stress, regardless of whether the employee sustains an injury.”

“An incident involving a threat or use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, including the use of common objects as weapons” constitutes workplace violence “regardless of whether the employee sustains an injury,” according to the code.

“Threat of violence,” meanwhile, is “any verbal or written statement, including but not limited to, texts, electronic messages, social media messages, or other online posts, or any behavioral of physical conduct, that conveys an intent, or that is reasonably perceived to convey an intent, to cause physical harm or to place someone in fear of physical harm, and that serves no legitimate purpose.”

These definitions are broad and can encompass numerous actions and behaviors that must be investigated.

Employers are required by the Workplace Violence Prevention Plan to keep records for “hazards,” which could be anything that could result in any of the above definitions of violence.

Therefore, hotel business owners must understand their own unique situation, including community presence, regular clientele, events and any other factor that might increase the threat of workplace violence.

Post-incident procedures

When a threat or act of workplace violence occurs, or is reported to an employer, employers are required to follow post-incident procedures, the most important of which is an investigation.

The investigation’s impartiality, quality and findings will play a central role in the employer’s compliance with SB 553. Employers must also include procedures for reporting the findings of investigations to those involved, as well as identify what corrective actions an employer took in response to those findings.

For a hotel business owner, those involved in the incident may be wider-ranging than the typical employer, as guests may be affected.

Additionally, employers must be thorough in their record-keeping to demonstrate compliance with the Workplace Violence Prevention Plan, documenting the investigation.

For example, the investigator is required to keep comprehensive records of their investigation process, documenting all witness interviews, physical and documentary evidence and any additional steps taken during their inquiry. These records, which must be maintained for five years, serve to ensure that the employer conducts a timely, thorough and unbiased investigation.

Hotel business owners facing unsettling acts of workplace violence must still maintain their compliance with SB 553. In the face of threats of violence, an unnerved workforce, and sincere concern for the safety of employees and guests, it may be in an owner’s best interest to hire qualified attorney investigators who are trained to navigate these difficult situations.

In the post-SB 553 landscape, California employers bear a higher level of accountability than ever for ensuring the safety of their workforce. Ensuring the investigation is expertly and independently conducted will not only keep employees safe, but also protect employers from liability.