Bill to Stop Employees Confronting Shoplifters Faces Key Vote


A bill in California that would legally mandate employers to implement a workplace violence prevention plan is just one vote away from becoming law, amid increasing concern about the safety of workers.

Senate Bill 553, which has already been passed by the state’s upper house, is due to be given a third reading in the State Assembly on Wednesday, before heading for a full vote. If passed, and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, it would become law on July 1 next year.

The measure seeks to compel employers whose workers face “a credible threat of violence” to provide “effective” violence prevention training and maintain a violence incident log. Employers’ violence prevention plans will have to ensure “that employees comply with safe and healthy work practices, which may include disciplinary action.”

The bill would also allow employers to seek temporary restraining orders against violent individuals for their premises and, from January 2025, would allow unions to also seek a restraining order on an employee’s behalf without them being named in the complaint.

Mourners stand next to a poster with images of the nine Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail yard shooting victims during a vigil at San Jose City Hall on May 27, 2021 in San Jose, California. Hundreds attended a vigil for the nine people were killed when a VTA employee opened fire at the VTA rail yard.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Provisions for protecting healthcare employees from violence are already on the statute books in California, but SB 553 would broaden these protections out to nearly all customer-facing workplaces.

Newsweek approached the Speaker’s Office of the California State Assembly via phone for comment on Wednesday.

Democratic state Senator Dave Cortese, who originally sponsored the bill, said on Friday that the motivation for the change to the law code came from the mass shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in May 2021, which left nine rail workers dead.

“I visited the crime scene that day, met with victim’s families, and swore I would do everything in my power to help workers prepare for outbreaks of senseless violence,” he wrote in a statement.

SB 553 overcame a key hurdle earlier this week, after the California Chamber of Commerce withdrew its opposition following the inclusion of amendments that exempt businesses with fewer than 10 employees. It now has a neutral stance towards the bill.

According to local news outlet KQED, the measure comes amid a rise in violence towards workers in the state—particularly at retail premises. It noted one case, from 2021, in which a Rite Aid shop worker was fatally shot after confronting a shoplifter.

The increase in violent incidents in California is part of a wider trend of retail crime becoming more prevalent, more organized and more detrimental to retailers and consumers alike.

Experts have said that, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the increase in online shopping has spurred organized criminal gangs chasing higher profit margins to steal in greater volume, often targeting high-value items. Organized retail crime is thought to be costing the American retail sector billions of dollars a year.

San Francisco has been a hotspot for shoplifting of late, leading to an exodus of big name brands from the area. In 2021, Walgreens shut five shops in the city, citing intolerable retail crime, and has since been followed by Whole Foods in April and Nordstrom in May.

That same month, a Lululemon store in Georgia made headlines after footage of staff confronting a group of three young men attempting to rob the store of bundles of clothing emerged. Two of the workers were later fired by the company over the incident.

While the workers’ dismissal sparked outrage, many retailers discourage staff from becoming physically involved with shoplifters over fears about their safety. At the time, a Lululemon spokesperson cited the safety of workers and customers in its decision, stating that the company had “an absolute zero-tolerance policy for our employees engaging with guests in a way that could put themselves, or others, in harm’s way.”


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