New Study Finds Limited Access to Legal Services Quells Overall Wellness and Productivity Among U.S. Employees
As today's workforce continues to navigate changing socioeconomic conditions and a complex legal landscape, research in a new study from MetLife Legal Plans found the interest for legal services is on the rise. According to MetLife's Legal Access Study, more than two-thirds of today's employees (67%) have faced a legal situation in the past five years-this is particularly true of those in marginalized and low-income groups.
As these challenges go beyond just impacting workers' personal lives and affect their overall wellbeing and productivity at work, employers are now seeing first-hand how legal issues can impact their employees. Research shows that one in three employees say they lack adequate access to legal resources, contributing to growing levels of stress and burnout.1 Meanwhile, 61% of employees say they are concerned about the impact of a legal issue on their financial health and nearly half (47%) are concerned about impact on mental health.
"Our research has shown that workers' holistic wellbeing has worsened in the last year as their need for access to quality legal advice has grown. Employers should consider the valuable role legal plans can play in their benefits offering. By offering a legal plan as a voluntary benefit, employers can improve the overall wellbeing of their workforce, help to deliver on their DEI commitments and support the ever-evolving composition of today's workforce," said Ingrid Tolentino, CEO, MetLife Legal Plans.
Legal Access Improves the Employee Experience
When employees have access to legal plans, their financial and mental health improve. MetLife research found that 67% of employees who have legal benefits through their employer feel financially healthy (vs. 52% who don't). Similarly, 75% of employees with legal benefits feel mentally healthy, compared to 63% without legal benefits who say the same.
The same study found that broadening access to legal services can also drive key business outcomes. In fact, employers who offer legal services are 12% more likely to say they have increased productivity in their workforce, compared to employers who do not offer legal plans.
By offering a benefit that covers a wide range of employee nees, employers are also better able to deliver on their commitments to DEI. The research found that employees with a legal plan are 25% more likely to say that they are satisfied with the availability of fair/equitable opportunities across their organization and 40% more likely to be satisfied with the social wellness benefits/programs that they're offered.
Addressing the "Justice Gap"
While a majority (67%) of employees have faced a legal situation in the past five years, only 7% of those have sought legal representation. Marginalized groups are even more likely to have faced a legal situation.
Yet while these groups have a higher occurrence of legal situations, they make up a small percentage of the 7% who have sought an attorney.
Workers in these groups are often disproportionately affected by a lack of access to legal services-an inequity commonly referred to as the "justice gap." For instance, while 24% of employees indicated that cost was a barrier to legal access, that percentage increased among minority demographics (38% with a disability, 34% LGBTQ+, 30% Black, and 29% Hispanic). Perceptions of fairness in the legal system among those affected by the justice gap are also lower, too, with many employees in these groups saying they actively avoid the legal system due to a lack of trust.
Supporting and Educating Employees through Legal Access
Beyond the lack of access to legal support, MetLife's study also uncovered a general lack of understanding of legal plans among employees, which can contribute to the underutilization of these benefits. Many employees hold misconceptions about legal plans, including what they are, what services they cover, how much they cost, and how they can enroll.
"It's not enough for employers to simply offer legal plans," said Tolentino. "It's essential they make it a priority to educate employees about how they can use legal plans to protect themselves in the face of the unknown, and as they approach life's major milestones."
In addition to improving employee wellbeing, employers demonstrate an elevated level of care for their workforce by providing increased education around legal services. Employees who use their legal plans are far more likely to feel cared for (73% vs. 54%), MetLife research has found. Benefits communication tactics, including lunch and learns, human resources office hours, and spending time with diverse groups to understand their unique experiences, support employees' evolving needs and demonstrate workplace equity.
Click here to learn more about MetLife's 2023 Legal Access Study.
MetLife Legal Plans' Legal Access Study was conducted in three parts from October 2022 to January 2023 and fielded by Big Village-a global research and analytics consultancy. Rainmakers conducted part one, which included a three-day online community. Twenty-eight interviews were conducted with full-time employees from diverse backgrounds on the state of legal access and their understanding of legal plans. Part two entailed interviews with three experts active in the legal industry (an EVP of DEI, a lecturer of business law and ethics for a school of social work, and an attorney/consultant), and one DEI subject matter expert (consultant and adjunct professor in the department of social justice and social change/consultant). Part three was a quantitative study of 5,023 employees.
MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET), through its subsidiaries and affiliates ("MetLife"), is one of the world's leading financial services companies, providing insurance, annuities, employee benefits and asset management to help individual and institutional customers build a more confident future. Founded in 1868, MetLife has operations in more than 40 markets globally and holds leading positions in the United States, Japan, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. For more information, visit www.metlife.com.
1 "The Justice Gap: The Unmet Civil Legal Need of Low-income Americans." Legal Services Corporation.
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