(The Center Square) – Despite widespread claims, California bill SB 553 would not ban stopping shoplifters but would still cost businesses and taxpayers.
Major social media accounts and mainstream news organizations have misrepresented the bill. Proud Elephant, which has nearly 280,000 followers on X.com, published a post with 1.2 million views as of writing, claiming the bill would make it “ILLEGAL to confront or fight back against looters, burglars and shoplifters” and “You’ll be fined nearly $20K if you attempt to stop these crimes.” This post has since been screenshotted and reposted on other social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram. Newsweek’s article on the measure, titled “Bill to stop employees confronting shoplifters faces key vote,” also misrepresented the bill.
The significantly amended bill never had any measure prohibiting individuals from confronting shoplifters. Instead, an earlier version of the bill had a provision banning employers from “maintaining policies that require employees to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters.” During the vote to get the bill out of the State Assembly’s suspense file, often used to quietly kill bills that cost more than $150,000, this provision was struck out. With a ban on employers from taking punitive action against employees who contact law enforcement during violent incidents, the bill essentially allows employers to maintain policies requiring confrontation of shoplifters with a carveout protecting those who choose to call the police instead.
As SSB 553 currently stands, the bill focuses on requiring that all businesses, and even small businesses, create workforce violence prevention plans and develop and deploy extensive training and procedures for dealing with workforce violence, including for the reporting of crimes. The $18,000 to $25,000 fine cited is for when any employer fails any level of the regulatory and procedural requirements outlined in SB 553.
In an example provided by the California Chamber of Commerce, an employer that fails to “sufficiently” assess its workplace’s potential hazards, fails to address the hazards it failed to identify, and failing to effectively train employees on the issue they failed to identify could be cited multiple times, incurring up to $25,000 for each citation, even if no injury ever occurred.
According to analysis by labor law firm Ogletree Deakins, SB 553’s level of procedural and regulatory requirements on all workplaces, from businesses to government organizations, is “similar in scope” to that required by “psychiatric hospitals” and would require installation of hardware such as electronic access controls, weapons detectors, and employee training on workplace violence prevention methods, procedures to follow in the event of a workplace violence incident, shoplifter training, active shooter training, and bans employers from requiring employees to confront suspected shoplifters.
In the California Assembly Appropriations Committee’s analysis on the bill, committee staff wrote the fiscal impact on the state and other employers are “unknown, but likely significant,” citing one analysis from the state’s public school districts that just one hour of SB 553 training for them would cost $19 million and does not include administrative costs for creating and editing the plan and record-keeping.