Michigan DUI – Professional Employment and a Professional License – Part 1

If you are facing a DUI charge and have any kind of professional employment, or hold a professional license, your worries go beyond just the potential legal consequences from the court. Unfortunately, a lot of legal marketing is fear-based, and tries to exploit the correlation between how much someone has to lose and how frightened they are when dealing with a drunk driving charge. Instead of doing that, I want to make clear, in this 2-part article, that for most people, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, and most other professionals, a single DUI will almost certainly NOT cost you your job or license.

mmmmm-300x256My team and I have, quite literally, handled thousands of DUI cases. Short of a professional lion-tamer, I can’t think of a profession we haven’t represented. We’ve taken care of DUI charges (including 2nd offense cases) for more medical and other professionals than I could count, and absolutely none of them have lost their licenses, or their jobs. In almost every case, with some skillful planning that accounts for the legal, employment and licensure implications of an OWI charge, everything can be worked out just fine.

That said, I am not aware of a single exception to the requirement that anyone convicted of a DUI must report it to his or her professional licensing body within a certain number of days. Separately, some people are required, under the terms of their employment, to report a DUI to their employer, but most are not. While employment terms are mostly contractual, and can require a person to notify his or her employer of an arrest, or pending charge, the reporting requirement for professional license holders is strictly rule-based, and, generally speaking, only kicks in after there has been a formal conviction.

The uncertainty people feel about being able to keep their jobs after a 1st offense DUI gives rise to a lot of emotional stress, and that’s normal. One thing that is often overlooked by many people, though, in the rush of stress that typically comes with an OWI charge, is that most employers want them to remain in their jobs every bit as much as they want to keep it.

In other words, unless your boss has been wanting to fire you anyway, as long as you are a good employee, and absent some legal reason why you cannot remain on the job (and those are few and far in-between), most employers will be glad to keep you onboard.

Although not a strictly “professional” situation, I remember a case from a few years ago that demonstrates this point rather well:

My client was a very outgoing fellow who worked for a sanitation company and had been with them for a long time (including, as I recall, through several mergers and acquisitions). He had worked his way up from being a “loader,” meaning a guy who loads trash into the back of the garbage truck, to being a “driver,” which is a position of much higher seniority, and better pay, too.

His DUI meant that, although he didn’t lose his personal driver’s license, his CDL (commercial driver’s license) would automatically have to be suspended for 1 year. The implication, of course, was that once that happened, he could no longer work as a driver.

He was freaked out that he would lose his job, but was pleased beyond words to learn that his employer was not going to let him go, and found other work for him, instead, including going out and working again as a loader. He was a good employee, and the company knew that, in the long run, it was better to work around his situation for a while, rather than try and find someone else to take his place.

This is how it is for most people, although being freaked out over a DUI causes many to lose sight of that, fear the worst.

Of course, every person is different, but as a general observation, the kinds of people who take the whole DUI situation seriously are usually the same kind who also take everything else seriously, too, including their work. Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, it has been my experience that the people who tend to worry the most about a DUI case are those who ought to worry the least.

I’ve had medical professionals go through 2nd offense DUI cases, and, instead of losing their professional license or their job, the worst thing they had to deal with was finding a way to get to and from work after losing their driver’s license. I’ve represented other medical professionals with far worse records than that, including DUI’s along with drug delivery charges, and they are still working in their respective fields today.

Things are an order of magnitude better for anyone who is simply facing some kind of 1st offense OWI charge.

I think a lot of professionals, especially those in the medical field, have a mistaken concept of their licensing body as some kind of angry and punitive organization, just waiting to ruin their careers as soon as they find out about a DUI.

That’s not how it works. The truth is, the licensing bodies are about making sure that those who hold a license are “okay” and safe to work with the public, and are surprisingly responsive and helpful to license holders whenever that becomes an issue.

Instead of “yanking” licenses, if one of these bodies suspects that a person has any kind of alcohol or substance abuse problem, their mission is to have the person evaluated, and then, if necessary, undergo the appropriate course of counseling and/or treatment, along with proper follow-up thereafter, to make sure they remain “okay” to work in their chosen field.

This means, of course, that it’s always best to be perceived as NOT having any kind of problem with alcohol or drugs, or otherwise being at risk to develop one. This is where having the right lawyer proves most helpful.

Consider these 2 scenarios:

If it is discovered that a nurse has a serious opiate addiction, and is stealing drugs and using heroin, the hospital where she works knows it would be liable for any harm she caused by letting him or her continue to work with patients, or in any capacity where he or she could cause harm, and the licensing body knows that she is a danger to herself and to her patients. Someone in this serious situation will undoubtedly lose his or her job and have their occupational license suspended.

Generally speaking, however, and even in this kind of serious situation, the person’s license will only be suspended until successful completion of treatment through what is known as HPRP (Health Professional Recover Program).

In other words, even that person can probably get his or her license reinstated.

By contrast, if a nurse (or any professional license holder, for that matter) just gets a DUI one night, and unless there’s a lot more to it than a mere instance of bad judgment, then a simple admonition – “don’t do that again” – is usually enough, and there will be no professional licensing sanctions.

This reality is that anyone who holds a professional license and facing a DUI is not so much at risk to lose his or her license as much as they are to be sent off for an evaluation to find out if there is any kind of underlying substance abuse problem, or any kind of measurable risk to develop one.

While this may sound good at first, and is certainly better than the thought of “losing” one’s license altogether, the whole idea of having to be evaluated in the first place, and then to have to complete any treatment or counseling required as the result of that evaluation, opens up a whole world of other issues that are best avoided, if possible.

We’ll stop here, and come back in part 2 and explore what that means.