As Michigan DUI lawyers, we are regularly asked by people how a DUI will affect their employment. The good news is that, most of the time, a single DUI will NOT adversely impact a person’s job. That said, there are a few circumstances wherein it can and/or will be a problem. Fortunately, those are the exceptions, rather than the rule. In this article, we’ll briefly examine the issue of DUI and employment, along with the requirement, in some cases, to report a it to one’s employer and/or professional licensing body.
Let’s start with the basics: A DUI is both a criminal and a traffic offense. Under Michigan law, a conviction for any alcohol-related traffic offense will wind up on both a person’s criminal record AND his or her driving record. Michigan now has an “expungement” law that allows a single DUI to be removed from someone’s criminal record (but NOT driving record) after 5 years. The person must, of course meet certain conditions for that to happen. While that’s great, it doesn’t change the fact that the DUI first does go on both records, and the impact of that will be our focus here.
One of the more common questions put to us goes something like this: “Will my job find out about this?” The answer to that is almost always, “No” – unless you are required to report it to your employer. Neither the court system nor the police will ever notify any 3rd party of a person’s DUI case. Absent a contractual or legal obligation to inform an employer about a DUI arrest and/or pending case, nobody is going to know unless the person facing it says something.
Here is another very important point: There is a huge difference between a charge and a conviction. Although there are exceptions, even when a person is required to “report” a DUI, that usually applies only to a conviction, and not a mere charge. In other words, if someone is arrested for and charged with a 1st offense DUI, but then the matter is dismissed, they are typically NOT required to report that.
As noted, though, there are exceptions. We’ve had clients (most often active duty military and people with security clearances) who were obligated to promptly report to their employers that they’d been arrested for a DUI.
We’ll get to professional license reporting requirements later, but there are some other people who are employed under contractual terms that require them to report an arrest, and not just a conviction. The only way for someone to know whether he or she must do so is to read their employee handbook, or whatever else they might have specifying their obligations to the employer in that situation.
Another important consideration is that, even if an OWI case (the actual term is “Operating While Intoxicated,” although everyone just calls it “DUI”) can’t be dismissed outright, there is often a difference (and it’s sometimes huge) between the offense originally charged against someone and the conviction offense that ultimately goes on his or her record. This is almost always the result of a negotiated plea bargain that reduces the charged offense to something less severe.
For example, assume that Bad Luck Brenda arrested for and charged with a High BAC offense. She hires our team and we manage to negotiate a deal get her charge reduced down to impaired driving (OWVI). This will significantly lessen the impact to her record, and she’ll never lose the ability to drive, either. This plea bargain means that she will be convicted of a less serious offense than the one that she was originally charged with.
Accordingly, even among those who are required to report a conviction to their employer, it’s the final charge that goes on their record that usually matters. Ultimately, if an employer runs a criminal or driving record check, it’s the conviction offense that will show up. Of course, avoiding a conviction altogether completely avoids that.
Now, let’s switch gears and talk about those people who will be most impacted by a DUI…
Anyone with a CDL (commercial driver’s license) will automatically lose it for year if they are convicted of any alcohol-related traffic offense (DUI) while driving a personal vehicle. Things are worse if a person is convicted of driving over the limit while operating a commercial vehicle. In that case, the suspension period is 3 years.
Because a CDL is also governed by federal motor carrier laws, there is no way to avoid the mandatory suspension, other than to avoid a DUI conviction altogether. This makes it ultra important for us, as DUI lawyers, to leave no stone unturned in an effort to beat the case.
On the bright side, CDL penalties only affect a small minority of people who get a DUI.
Operating a commercial vehicle is one thing, but just having to drive as part of one’s employment is another.
Many people have to drive as part of their jobs. As lawyers, for example, we have to drive to and from different courts. As long as someone doesn’t need to operate a commercial vehicle that requires a CDL, then the license penalties from a 1st offense DUI is usually not that bad. No matter what, the very worst 1st offense license penalty (for High BAC cases) will only sideline a person from driving for 45 days.
By contrast, the least severe penalty (for OWVI, or “impaired driving” cases) only restricts a person’s pleasure driving for 90 days, and has NO effect on his or her operation of a vehicle, to, from or during the course of work. That’s what happened to Bad Luck Brenda, in our example above.
Whether or not someone has to report this to anyone his or her depends: Some employers who rely upon an employee to drive as part of his or her job may require it. Others may periodically run a check on an employee’s driving record. This is particularly true if someone operates a company vehicle. The majority, however, don’t do anything except require a person to simply get the job done.
Let’s use our law firm as an example. Assume for a moment that one of the associate lawyers or support staff picked up a DUI (none of them ever has, so this is entirely fictional). My concern, as the principal, would be that he or she could get to work, and, in the case of one of the lawyers, get to court. Frankly, it wouldn’t matter to me even if he or she couldn’t drive themselves and used a driver for a while.
As long as my employee didn’t have any difficulties doing his or her job, I’d be fine. Of course, I’d want to make sure there was no indication that the DUI was symptomatic of any other problem(s) that could affect his or her performance. As long as that wasn’t the case, though, I wouldn’t have any trouble with the situation, and I think it’s fair to say that most employers feel the same
The reality is that loads people go through a DUI and nobody at work ever knows about it. Some people may have a colleague with whom they share this information, but other than that, and except for a few hours off for court, a person can go through a DUI case without anyone ever being the wiser.
Some people who hold a professional license through the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) must report a DUI conviction. In our practice, we see this rather often in the context of medical licenses.
As it turns out, the biggest licensing problem for anyone convicted of a 1st offense DUI is failing to report it. Of course, how that information is presented to the licensing body is important, as well. My team and I help our clients do so in a way to avoid any further action other than having had to make the disclosure. In cases involving an underlying alcohol or drug abuse issues, we liaison with specialized, outside counsel who concentrate specifically in LARA reporting.
The concerns of LARA go beyond the scope of this article. However, what’s important is that anyone who holds any kind of license through the State of Michigan (or certain federal agencies, for that matter) must always check and confirm his or her obligations to report a DUI.
Whether or not a person must also report any such arrest and/or conviction to his or her employer is almost always a matter of contract between him or her and that employer. In other words, a person’s employment contract may require him or her to report an arrest and/or conviction, and may mandate that he or she must disclose anything reported to LARA.
Of course, this article merely provides an overview, but it pretty much includes everything applicable to 1st offense DUI cases and employment.
By way of review, here is a summary of what we’ve covered regarding an employer finding out about someone’s DUI:
1. A very small minority of people will have to report a DUI arrest to their employer.
2. A few are contractually or legally required to report a DUI conviction to their employer.
3. Most people are under no obligation to say anything about either a DUI arrest or conviction at work.
4. The court system does not notify anyone’s employer about a DUI case.
5. Some employers run criminal and/or driving record checks, so a DUI will eventually be “discovered.”
6. Anyone whose employment requires a CDL will have it suspended for a year upon conviction for a 1st offense DUI.
7. Some people are required to report a DUI conviction to their licensing body. Any such person may (or may not) be contractually obligated to also notify their employer (see items #1 and #2, above).
If you are facing a DUI and looking for a lawyer, be a smart consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers explain the DUI process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable, and to-date, I have written and published over 600 articles in the DUI section. New original content is added weekly. There is more useful information here than can be found anywhere else, but don’t take my word for it; check for yourself.
When you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person. If your case is pending in the Metro-Detroit area (meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or the surrounding counties), make sure you give our office a ring, as well.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We’ll also be happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.