2024 Legislative Session Dates
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Key Takeaways:

  • Organized retail theft represents a significant issue for retailers and law enforcement. In addition to measures that address theft prevention and prosecution, new legislation aimed at protecting retail employees from violent attacks has been passed in California and introduced in New York and Minnesota.
  • California enacted a new law last year, applicable to nearly all employers in the state, to create the first workplace violence prevention safety requirements in the country. It requires employers to develop and implement a workplace violence prevention plan, train employees, and maintain detailed records. The law goes into effect on July 1, 2024.
  • Lawmakers in New York introduced legislation, which is similar to California’s law but imposes additional mandates on employers who have been victims of violent attacks, requiring them to hire security guards and install a panic button in certain stores.

Over the last several years, the retail industry and many law enforcement officials have been staunch proponents of policies to slow the rise of organized retail theft at both the state and federal levels. MultiState has written about this issue previously here. While some level of retail theft has always existed, the issue has gained more attention from lawmakers in recent years as major retail brands continue to demonstrate the significant impact theft has had on their business operations. This, combined with an increase in media coverage of retail theft, has spurred lawmakers into action in states across the country. 

To date, eighteen states have established Attorney General-led task forces dedicated to catching and prosecuting organized retail theft criminals and gangs. While the particulars of each task force vary from state to state, generally the task forces provide additional funding to support coordination among law enforcement, prosecutors, and businesses to focus on stopping multi-jurisdictional retail crime operations. In addition to these task forces, MultiState is tracking over 125 bills across 31 different states that look to address organized retail crime in 2024. Most of the pending legislation makes adjustments to a state’s criminal code to either increase penalties for repeat theft offenders, allow for additional aggregation of theft for prosecutors, and/or to lower felony theft threshold amounts. 

California Leads the Way 

Amongst the recent flurry of state laws designed to decrease retail theft, a new trend emerged in 2024 aimed at protecting retail store workers from violent retail theft following similar legislative activity in California in 2023. Proponents of those bills claim that retail store operators need to do more to protect their employees from violent criminal theft by mandating that retailers implement new workplace violence prevention plans and provide additional training for their store employees. While these newly proposed bills may be well-intentioned, most major retail outlets already have internal policies designed to protect their workforce, and to provide training for their employees on how best to handle suspected thieves. These new legislative proposals focused on retail worker safety could represent a shift away from increased enforcement of criminal activity for some policymakers. 

Last year, lawmakers in California started the trend of retail worker safety laws after Governor Newsom (D) signed SB 533. Set to take effect on July 1, 2024, the new law created the first general workplace violence prevention requirements in the United States and will apply to nearly all California employers. Covered employers will be required under the law to develop and implement a workplace violence prevention plan and provide training to their employees on the developed plan. The law also imposes recordkeeping requirements on employers, including an incident log for every workplace violence incident and its investigation. 

New York Introduces Retail Worker Protection Act 

California’s new law has inspired other states to introduce similar measures. In January, Senator Jessica Ramos (D) of New York introduced the “Retail Worker Safety Act.” The proposed legislation (SB 8358/AB 8947) would require stores to develop violence prevention plans, employee training, and similar reporting requirements. The New York bill goes further than California’s in two important ways. First, the proposal mandates that retail stores that have been involved in violent attacks hire security guards. Second, it would require retail stores with 50 or more employees to install panic buttons within the store. The same two requirements in New York’s bill were part of the original language in California SB 533 but were amended out of the final version. 

Legislators in Minnesota also introduced a new bill called the “Retail Worker and Consumer Safety Violence Prevention Act” (MN HF 3528). The proposed legislation in Minnesota more closely resembles California’s enacted law and does not contain the two extra provisions from New York. 

Some industry voices have expressed concern regarding these new policies focusing on the potential for increased litigation and the insinuation that blame for criminal acts should fall on retail store operators that have been the victims of theft. The proposed legislation in New York has raised concerns focused on the cost burden on retail stores. In an article from the New York Post, Kennith Giddon, co-owner of Rothman’s clothing store in New York City, estimated the new legislation could cost over $200,000 dollars, citing the cost of hiring a security guard during the store's off-hours as well as contracting with a company to lead safety training for staff twice a year. 

Finally, a group of related bills have been proposed in 2024 that could add an additional layer of complexity to the issue of protecting retail store workers and decreasing retail theft. Lawmakers in New York (SB 7639/AB 7976), Tennessee (SB 2575), and Washington (SB 5259) have introduced legislation that would make it illegal for an employer to take any adverse action against an employee who confronts or reports a retail theft. These proposals seem to be a reaction to the policies of many retail outlets that train employees not to intervene in active thefts for their own protection and safety. Most store operators understand that their employees are not trained in crime prevention and these sorts of interventions to deter crime could result in more harm to store workers. 

As state sessions continue this year, we will be watching closely for more legislation related to mandated workplace safety prevention plans.