5 Part Series: The Missing Piece, Part 2

5 Part Series: The Missing Piece, Part 2

Part 2: Employee Stress Caused by the Legal Problem Itself

In the first part of the Missing Piece Series, we introduced the idea that there is an undiscussed factor of employee and financial wellness: employee stress directly affected by personal legal crises and emergencies. We will examine the first of four major challenges that cause employees to seriously misunderstand the legal system and handle associated emotional stress: the stress caused by the legal problem itself.

Legal problems come in all shapes and sizes — divorce, child custody battles, parental kidnappings, bankruptcy, foreclosures, arrests, juvenile court, domestic violence, will contests, neighbor disputes, contentious legal problems — and serious stress can be caused by the underlying legal problem itself:

  • family-wide devastation from a divorce filing;
  • probate expenses when a parent/spouse dies unexpectedly;
  • arrest and potential incarceration of oneself or a family member;
  • bankruptcy that wipes out a lifetime of accumulation;
  • costly repairs and remedial actions;
  • unexpected appearance of and financial claims by a “lost” child;
  • foreclosure and the associated legal bill and loss of home;
  • automobile costs that may include credit card debt, collection agency pressures or repossession that leads to loss of car and loss of job;
  • a legal adoption overturned on appeal;
  • IRS back tax lien filing from a former spouse with no formal divorce in place; or
  • undetected identity theft of Social Security Number that leads to frozen bank accounts or fraudulent liens placed on almost-paid-for home.

One of the most obvious problems is when an employee files for divorce or is served with divorce papers. The stress level skyrockets, particularly if the divorce was unexpected, because the employee must respond immediately to the divorce petition. Chances are, the employee feels lost, life is turned upside down, issues with children must be ironed out and there is the prospect of losing friends, a lifestyle and financial and material holdings acquired during the marriage.

The employee’s concentration shifts away from work to divorce, and feelings of betrayal, frustration, anger and even rage emerge against the spouse who is “doing this.” Managers or supervisors who have witnessed an employee going through a lengthy and nasty divorce can attest to the effects on the workplace, which can be turned upside down.

Several recent studies have directly linked marital and relationship breakdown to the increased likelihood of developing serious physical and emotional disease.

  • A multi-year study found that men who divorced or separated were 3.3 times more likely to experience depression than men who remained with their spouses. Among women, the odds of depression after a break up were about 2.4 times higher. For many in the study, depression remained a problem for as long as four years post- divorced.1
  • According to University College in London, stress associated with marital struggle was found to increase the likelihood of a heart attack or other heart trouble in both male and female subjects by as much as 34% over the 12-year life of the study concluded in 2007.
  • The American Diabetes Association has suggested that stress2 caused by poor relationships aggravates diabetes for those afflicted with the condition.
  • Researchers at Ohio State University found that when couples re-lived past arguments, self-inflicted blister wounds healed at only 60% the rate of wounds inflicted on couples who exhibited lower-hostility behavior.

But that’s not all. Studies compiled by Life Innovations in 2006 on behalf of the Marriage Commission had key findings:

  • Immune system function is lower in couples surviving poor relationships compared to couples enjoying satisfying relationships.3
  • The likelihood of domestic violence grows as relationships fail.4
  • Domestic violence costs Corporate America up to 7.9 million paid workdays of lost productivity annually.5
  • Unhappily married couples are almost four times more likely to have a partner abusing alcohol than in happily married couples.6
  • Those with alcohol problems skip or miss work 30% more than those without such problems.7

There are other examples in which the legal problem itself can be the cause of major stress because of the high costs of battling or defending a lawsuit. These may include being sued to recover an unexpected and substantial medical expense incurred by an employee, a lawsuit to recover damages and serious injuries caused by an employee’s spouse’s or child’s car accident, and lawsuits over evictions, repossessions, creditor pressures, collection calls, foreclosures and mortgage or student loan defaults. Each of these situations causes serious and increasing amounts of employee stress, as well as worry, anxiety, concerns, upset, anger, depression and even rage in some instances.

As we can see, stress caused by legal matters can affect your employees. In the next part of the series, we will consider the challenge of exorbitant costs of legal help and solutions.


1Statistics Canada, The Daily, May 22, 2007

2Tracy Neithercott, “Stress Less,” Diabetes Forecast, December 2008, http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2008/dec/stress-less.html.

3Waite & Gallagher, 2000


5Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, 2006

6Whisman, Uebelacker, & Bruce, 2006

7U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004


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