UPMC’s STANDING FIRM Stresses That Partner Violence is “Everyone’s Business”

By Diane Holder

Intimate partner violence has health, safety, and physical implications.  It, therefore, is not only important to assist employees struggling with an abusive relationship, it also makes good business sense.  UPMC long ago identified the broad impacts of partner violence on the workplace and workforce and combined our clinical expertise with the practical guidance from local domestic violence shelters and community leaders to collaboratively establish a platform of tools to empower businesses to support their employees in these situations.

These resources served as a foundation for STANDING FIRM, an organization that is part of the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and that provides policy, education and tools to employers who want to build a response to partner violence that takes into account the health, safety and equity of their employees and their resources.  Access to some of these critical resources is included as part of UPMC Health Plan’s LifeSolutions® employee assistance program, offered through UPMC Workpartners

We built this into our employee assistance program in recognition of the important role businesses can play in supporting their employees and preventing workplace violence.

The issue of workplace violence—often driven by an employee’s current or former intimate partner—emerged as a major public health issue in the mid-to-late 1990s. By 2000, violent incidents were the second-leading cause of death on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, intimate partner violence is indicated in more than a quarter of violent incidents in the workplace. Between 2003 and 2008, 142 women were murdered in their workplace by an intimate partner: a staggering 22 percent of all workplace homicides.

This alarming trend made many of us at UPMC, especially those of us with backgrounds in behavioral health, fully recognize a very serious problem that some still underestimate.

Our partners at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh saw firsthand the impact of domestic violence through their critical, daily work to help survivors. As part of a clinical research organization, we wanted to obtain hard and confirmative data to fully establish the pervasiveness of intimate partner violence. To get that information, we conducted an internal employee survey to measure how intimate partner violence was directly affecting our workforce. We were shocked to learn that a significant portion of the women who responded to our survey had experienced domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. And when we engaged business and regional leaders, we discovered that intimate partner violence cuts across all industries and organizations.

This evidence-driven, employee wellness-focused initiative established the platform for what is now STANDING FIRM.  STANDING FIRM’s growth over the past two decades reminds us that this mission is as timely now as it was when it was created, if not more so. For too many employees, work is safer than home. Multiple studies confirm that domestic violence spiked in both frequency and intensity between 8 and 10 percent during the pandemic, especially when stay-at-home orders were in place.  Although the nation has made progress over the decades and there is more awareness today than in years past, partner violence in general remains a major problem. STANDING FIRM reports that intimate partner violence is the leading cause of homicide for women 18-44 years of age. It is also responsible for 20 percent of all violent crime (2018, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

Fortunately, the conversation is changing. The exacerbating effects of COVID combined with employers getting involved and understanding their role are shining new light on a pervasive issue. The key is making sure employers have the tools to respond responsibly and safely. As an integrated health system, UPMC continues to enhance its clinical and programmatic infrastructure (including LifeSolutions® EAP) for employers and members. And across the country, effective EAPs provide resources and tools for behavioral and other health crises, including intimate partner violence.

An employee survey taken from STANDING FIRM member companies confirm that perceptions are indeed evolving. 83 percent of surveyed employees think it is important for employers to address partner violence as a workplace issue.  Employers should embrace this challenge for business, safety and public health reasons.

To access STANDING FIRM resources through LifeSolutions, employers and employees can call 1-800-647-3327.

Employers interested in learning more about how UPMC’s LifeSolutions can support workforce health, safety, and productivity can call 1-866-229-3507 or email info@workpartners.com.

To learn more about how STANDING FIRM works with individual employers, go to www.Standing-Firm.org.


Diane Holder is Executive Vice President, UPMC, President, Insurance Services Division, and President & CEO, UPMC Health Plan