STANDING FIRM Helps Businesses Combat an Unseen Effect of COVID-19
For many, working from home has become a reality during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what happens when home is not a safe place to be and workplaces that function as protective environments for those survivors of partner abuse are taken away?
When work is safer than home, those at risk for abuse can experience increased isolation and danger. STANDING FIRM works with employers to alleviate these impacts not just in times of global crisis, but always.
STANDING FIRM is a national program founded in 2009 by Dr. Patricia Cluss, a University of Pittsburgh faculty member and researcher on intimate partner violence (IPV). Its mission is to alert employers to the financial, safety, and human costs of partner violence on the workplace and workforce, and equip them with tools for taking effective organizational action.
STANDING FIRM is one of the few programs in the country dedicated to supporting employers to address intimate partner violence (IPV) as a workplace and workforce issue. A membership organization, STANDING FIRM has helped raise awareness about the incidence of IPV and the risk it poses as a trigger for workplace violence. STANDING FIRM has implemented employee and manager education for companies in Pittsburgh and across the country, including an eight-year partnership with Peoples.
“IPV is a stubborn public health problem that has a substantial negative impact on the safety, health, and equity of employees in the workplace,” said Beth Lewis, Director of STANDING FIRM. “Societal norms that suggest violence and control in an intimate relationship is a ‘private’ matter have interfered in the effort to address it head-on. The chance to engage employers in the community response to this intractable problem was part of my interest in joining STANDING FIRM.”
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for helping IPV survivors. And especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the typical avenues to seek safety or access support may no longer be viable. STANDING FIRM builds a framework to help employers Recognize, Respond, and Refer, even during pandemic times.
“In recent years, I have seen an increased focus on providing support for employees dealing with partner violence, like understanding the negative impact it has on employees, and on their performance and attendance,” said Monica Alston, an advisory council member for STANDING FIRM and Construction Operations Administration Manager for Peoples. “Organizations like STANDING FIRM make it possible for companies like Peoples to take a more proactive approach to educate employees about the readily available resources, and encourage a work environment of support without judgment within the company.”
By educating employers to recognize IPV as an issue with bottom-line effects on workplace productivity and safety, respond appropriately by adopting policies and implementing training for employees and management, and referring employed victims to internal and community resources for assistance, STANDING FIRM is destigmatizing IPV as a “domestic” issue we must all help address.
Lewis says that informing employers of the resources available to their employees suffering from IPV during COVID-19 is critical.
“Widely sharing victim hotline or text/chat access can be a lifesaver for employees surviving a dangerous relationship and stuck at home with their abuser,” she said. “The question of the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace under OSHA regulations remains open since work-from-home orders began last spring. If an employer knows their employee is in a violent relationship and requires them to work from home, how does the employer discharge their responsibility for safety for their employee?”
And what about a manager who isn’t aware that an employee is in a violent relationship? They may have a “gut feeling” that something isn’t right but no hard evidence that something is wrong?
“Some signs of IPV are not obvious and become can be even harder to identify remotely,” Lewis said. “It may simply be a shift in demeanor, a lack of availability, or something even more subtle that doesn’t add up.” Acknowledging concern and directing an employee to available resources even if they do not disclose abuse can help.
Alston agrees that the resources provided through the organization are helpful for all parties involved.
“Having STANDING FIRM as an advocate and a resource is very helpful for management and Human Resource partners,” she said. “The ability to work with STANDING FIRM to receive online training programs and their parent organization, Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, as a resource for the referral program provides a specialized understanding that is needed when handling situations of employees dealing with partner violence.”
To help employers learn the signs and better understand problems that could arise through remote work, STANDING FIRM created a brief webinar as a guide for managers who must supervise employees remotely, and an accompanying tool kit containing resources for employees and managers alike.
For employers wanting to become a part of STANDING FIRM, or employees who would like to bring the program to the attention of company leaders, Lewis encourages employers to keep an open mind.
“Be open about the problem of IPV. It is not expensive to offer employee education on the topic, nor is it costly to develop a policy. If you think about it, since 1 in 3 women and 1 in 9 men experience IPV, we all know someone who has been affected, and they may just need the door to be opened for them to ask for help.”