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Calif. Senate passes bill to stop employees confronting shoplifters

Supporters of the bill say it would improve the safety of employees in the state while opponents claim it would do nothing to address violence.
A boarded up CVS store in downtown Los Angeles.
Posted at 5:40 PM, Jun 08, 2023

The California state Senate has passed a controversial bill that would establish new workplace violence prevention standards — but not everyone is on board.

Senate Bill 553, which was introduced by State Sen. Dave Cortese, would prohibit employers from "maintaining policies that require employees to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters." It would also require businesses to keep a log of violent incidents and provide active shooter training to all non-healthcare workers.

Sen. Cortese says the legislation is intended to reduce workplace violence and protect employees from thieves.

"With growing awareness of workplace violence, California needs smarter guidelines to keep workers safe in the office or on the job site," Cortese said in a statement. "Under my SB 553, employers would be prohibited from forcing their workers to confront active shoplifters, and all retail employees would be trained on how to react to active shoplifting. The legislation has other provisions that keep people safe at work. Let’s take every reasonable step to prevent another workplace assault or shooting."

Other provisions of the bill would:

1. Include an assessment of staffing levels as a cause for workplace violence incidents;

2. Require employers to include an evaluation of environmental risk factors in their Workplace Violence Prevention Plan;

3. Allow an employee representative to be a petitioner for a workplace violence restraining order;

4. Require employers to refer workers to wellness centers.

However, SB 553 is not targeted at trained security guards and would not prevent them from confronting criminals or active shooters.

A security guard stands outside the Nordstrom store

Why is there an increase in shoplifting nationwide?

A survey showed 54% of small businesses reported a rise in shoplifting in 2021.


The new legislation comes in the wake of several violent incidents at California businesses. In April, a Walgreen security guard shot and killed a suspected shoplifter after reportedly being directed by his employer to use a "hands on" approach to recover the stolen goods. In the same month, a Home Depot employee was shot and killed while trying to intervene and stop an active robbery.

While supporters claim the new bill is intended to protect employees and reduce violence, some business owners aren't on board. The California Chamber of Commerce, along with dozens of other organizations, wrote a letter to lawmakers saying SB 553 is overreaching.

"California’s employers—both public and private—should be very concerned about SB 553 because it requires all employers to meet workplace violence standards that exceed even those applied to hospitals under present regulations,” the organization’s policy advocate Rob Moutrie said in a statement to Yahoo News. "Cal/OSHA staff specifically rejected using the hospital standard for all industries, and have spent years working on a general industry draft that makes sense for all of California’s workplaces. Sadly, SB 553 ignored those years of work and applies the hospital standard—with a few additional provisions—to even the smallest employer in the state."

Entrance to a Target store.

Target warns theft, crime-fueled losses could top $1.2B this year

The announcement comes after the retail giant estimated losses of $700 million to $800 million from theft last year.


Overall, retail theft has been on the rise in recent years and the National Retail Federation says it's a multi-billion dollar problem that's impacting every state, not just California. The National Retail Federation’s annual 2022 survey found that the average shrink rate — an industry term for lost inventory — was 1.4%. That translates to nearly $95 billion in losses. Additionally, eight in 10 retailers surveyed in the annual report said that violence and aggression related to organized retail crime is increasing. 

Target said last month that losses driven by organized crime could result in a $1.2 billion hit to the retailer's bottom line this year. The announcement came after Target estimated losses of $700 million to $800 million from theft last year.

Retailers have also faced a rash of thefts in recent months, with some companies, like Walmart, closing down "underperforming" stores in areas of high crime. Others have turned to locking up many everyday items to prevent them from being stolen. But that too has negatively impacted sales.

The California bill is still subject to changes by the state assembly, but if approved and then signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the measure would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.