You may have seen the recent news story of a police officer who was fired for driving under the influence. If you are arrested for a DUI, the consequences go way beyond possible jail time. You may not be aware that a DUI can have a devastating impact on your job.
Here are 9 ways a DUI can destroy or damage your career:
- Suspended license: If your license is suspended and you don't get an exemption for driving to/from work (many states allow this exemption under certain circumstances) then you're taking a taxi, hiring a private driver, or taking the bus to and from work. Taking the bus is pretty unreliable and you can end up losing your job due to lateness. Plus, if your job requires you to drive, you're out of luck.
- Mandatory firing policy: Many employers provide in handbooks and employment contracts that conviction of a crime is grounds for firing. If your employer has that policy, you may lose your job. Employers who have this policy usually require you to notify them immediately upon an arrest.
- Insurance loss: If your job requires you to drive, and if you manage to keep your license, your insurance company may not insure people with DUIs. If you are covered by company insurance for driving a vehicle or heavy equipment, your employer may lose coverage if they keep you employed. Your employer may have no choice but to fire you. Even if you manage to be covered, your insurance, and your employer's, will be more expensive. Your employer may not want to pay extra to keep you.
- Diversion program: If you're lucky enough to qualify for a diversion program that lets you avoid jail time, there could still be mandatory notification of your employer and even required visits to you at work. If you can show that your handbook provides that conviction of a crime is grounds for firing, then some states may waive this requirement. However, some states require a guilty plea for entry into a diversion program, and if your employer finds out you've been convicted, you'll likely lose your job.
- Professional license: Many professional licenses, such as for lawyers, nurses, doctors and even plumbers require that any arrest be disclosed to the licensing agency. Depending on your state and the agency, it could affect your license. Lose your license, lose your job.
- Missed work: You'll miss work for court appearances and possibly for mandatory alcohol treatment. There could be mandatory imprisonment. You could get hit with excessive absenteeism. Plus, there's the embarrassment of explaining why you have to be out.
- Job applications: While some states don't allow employers to ask about arrests and convictions on job applications, most do. Plus, your DUI will appear in public records and on your driver's license records.
- Education: Many colleges and universities ask if you have any criminal convictions. Similarly financial aid applications may be affected by a DUI. You may have to prove you've gone through a treatment program, or may lose out altogether.
- Commercial driver's license: A DUI will show up on your commercial driving record for 55 years. If you're a commercial driver, your career is possibly at an end.
- Stay calm: Police are looking to see if you are agitated, nervous or belligerent. Be polite and calm at all times.
- Open your window: It may be cold (or hot) out, but you need to clear the alcohol fumes. Plus, you will need to speak with the officer. Do it as quickly as you can.
- Get your license and registration ready: You don't want them to see you fumbling or dropping things.
- Speak as little as possible: Look at them but point your mouth away from the officer's face. If you are asked where you are coming from, if you've been drinking or how much you've had to drink, don't answer. Say, politely, something like, "I have nothing to say." If you say any more, you may slur your words, and they will smell your breath. If you admit you had dinner with friends, came from a bar or club, or were drinking, that evidence can and will be used against you.
- Refuse the field sobriety test: You don't have to submit to the field tests they give, like walking in a straight line, touching your nose, etc. They don't have to tell you that you can refuse. You can. Refuse. They're subjective and even sober people can fail.
- Portable Breathalyzer: The advice I've found on taking the portable Breathalyzer is mixed. The majority seem to be against it, but you'll be taken to the station if you refuse. If you decline, you might say something like, "I'd prefer to go to the station to be tested."
- Blood versus breath: I've also seen mixed advice on choosing the blood test versus the Breathalyzer, if your state allows the choice (and you may have to ask if you have the choice). The blood tests are more accurate but samples can be retested. Breathalyzer results may be more easily challenged, but also give more false positives. In most states, refusing to be chemically tested is a crime in itself, so you may not want to refuse.
I'd love to hear from criminal defense attorneys in the comments as to your best advice for people stopped after drinking.
The best advice is to not drink and drive. If you have been drinking, call a taxi, take a bus or order a car service. We use a service that we can book in advance before attending a wine tasting dinner or other event where we know we'll be drinking that will pick you up and drive you home in your own vehicle. If you have a similar service in your area, try it out. AAA offers a "tipsy tow" or "tow-to-go" service in certain states for big holidays and events like New Year's and the Superbowl. The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration publishes a list of sober ride services available in most states. Put the service of choice on your contacts list and call them if you've been drinking.
If you are arrested for a DUI, contact a criminal defense attorney right away. Then you might want to talk to an employment lawyer in your state about how it will affect your job.
If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.
Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.