5 Part Series: The Missing Piece

5 Part Series: The Missing Piece

Part 1: Explore an Unknown Factor of Financial Wellness

There is so much in the news today about Employee Health and Wellness. Here at LegalEASE, we are studying how much employee health is determined by a number of different factors. In this 5 part series, we will examine this unexplored factor of financial wellness and its critical components.

Most of factors that determine employee health are known; however, one substantial factor is receiving almost no attention. This undiscussed factor literally affects 70%1 of employees each year in some way and about 28%2 are affected in a serious and substantial way.

This health and wellness factor is employee stress directly affected by personal legal crises and emergencies.

For some reason, personal legal matters happen to hundreds of employees in the U.S. each day, but virtually no time or attention is paid on how to help an employee when a personal legal crisis or emergency arises – usually without warning.

Each day, employees across the U.S. are going through crushing bankruptcies, disruptive foreclosures, evictions, unexpected divorces, protracted child custody battles, visitation clashes, neighbor conflicts, financial debt/credit card struggles, probate wars, frightening medical bill disputes, elder parent nursing home abuses, children’s juvenile or criminal charges, debilitating auto accidents, spousal abuse and attacks, and a multitude of other personal legal matters.

Some are not as serious, but still take a lengthy amount of time to handle – home contractor problems, construction defects, mechanic problems, driving license suspensions, ID theft problems, property damages to cars and one’s personal property, and a host of other legal issues that often require small claims court or regular court attendance to resolve.

Thousands of hours of work time are absorbed, either in absenteeism or presenteeism, while employees try to handle the legal problems on their own, search for the right attorney to help, and pursue endless attorney searches that do not work out, but result in missed work. And none of this accounts for the days of work missed for the actual court proceedings.

Thousands more employee hours are missed to handle the stress, embarrassment, emotional distress and illness associated with the worry of the legal problem, one’s marriage, whether one will ever keep custody of their children, and how to find thousands and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and retainer to pay lawyers almost without warning in many cases.  Missed work to find legal fees is often coupled with missed work to treat the illness and emotional upset in physician or psychologist visits.  In many cases, right under our noses, employees in large numbers are being treated and taking prescription drugs for stress and emotional upset while at work and trying to concentrate on their jobs.

Yet, virtually no time is spent analyzing the cost of this absenteeism, prescription drug treatments or physician or psychologist/psychiatrist visits for the between 28% and 70%3 of U.S. employees who are suffering through one or more legal crises or emergencies.


Several reasons may play a role:

  • Legal problems are highly confidential – no one wants to tell their employer they spent last night in jail for a DUI/DWI
  • Legal problems are highly personal – many employees do not want their co-workers to know they are going through a divorce or they have been abused by their spouse
  • Legal problems may have far-reaching consequences – children can be taken away from spouses who are not caring properly for them, or who made a mistake in their care – the threat of Children’s Protective Services taking their children away keeps many employees from talking about their legal issues.
  • Legal problems with financial consequences are highly embarrassing and many employees do not want to talk about a bankruptcy or collection agencies calling endlessly
  • Losing one’s house in foreclosure is likely beyond embarrassing and stressful for many employees and they are not readily willing to talk through the problem at work.
  • So many legal problems sound so scary at first and can seriously undermine one’s reputation – as an example imagine the employee accused of stealing, or assault or child abuse, or even charged with a crime – and yet the person is innocent
  • Indeed there are a substantial number of reasons where privacy prevents employees from being forthcoming at work about their legal problems.

Beyond the embarrassment, privacy and reputation concerns that employees may face, there is a complete aspect of legal issues that compound their resolution – the American Legal System and the lack of preparedness to deal with attorneys. This lack of preparedness is a frightening, difficult, stressful, and unsettling experience that eventually results in each person feeling the whole gamut of emotions.

Once an employee is drawn into a serious financial or legal problem that includes the legal system, a series of challenges arise that can substantially impact the already high stress the employee feels. For most employees, there is a significant gap between hoped-for expectations of what the legal system can deliver and its actual realities. Because legal and financial problems can be so debilitating, it is critical that HR understand each of these challenges since each may cause a mountain of stress-related workplace problems. Join us for a four part series in which we will examine the four major challenges that cause employees to seriously misunderstand the legal system and handle associated emotional and stress:

  1. the stress caused by the legal problem itself;
  2. the exorbitant cost of legal help and solutions;  
  3. not knowing which attorney to use or not having access to an “emergency” attorney when one is needed; and
  4. a complicated legal system that most employees do not know how to navigate alone.  

Each of these challenges causes stress, and when compounded by the presence of other challenges, the challenges can paralyze an employee. In the next 4 parts of this Missing Piece Series, we will explore each of these major challenges.


1Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, “Public Perceptions of Lawyers Consumer Research Findings” (American Bar Association, April 2002), 23.

2Health Affairs Volume 21, no. 2 (March 2002).