I have been arrested for driving whilst under the influence. Will I lose my job?
The first thing to consider is that not many of us are our own boss like Tiger Woods. If you were to be arrested for driving under the influence of drink or drugs, you would have to face up to your employer as well as the police.
Let’s look at the most obvious point first. If your job requires you to drive regularly, your employment contract terms will likely say that if/when you are banned from driving your employer may dismiss you without notice. Similarly, a criminal record may jeopardise your professional and/or regulatory status, which, if lost, may be grounds for dismissal. If the infringement was made in a company car or during work time that will compound the issue further. Again, you may find yourself being summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.
It pays to recognise that things may not be that much easier even if you are not required to drive or maintain some form of certification as part of your job, or if the incident took place in your own car on your own time.
Many employment contracts will require staff to report if they are arrested or charged with a criminal offence, and a criminal conviction will often be specifically listed as a sackable offence in policies and handbooks. Your employer may well also consider your actions to have brought the company into disrepute, if it is reported in the local paper for example, and especially because it is an offence that carries a lot of stigma. So, you may still find that you are facing dismissal for gross misconduct, or at least subject to disciplinary action of some kind.
If you find yourself in this situation, remember that your employer will need to do what is reasonable and follow due process in order for any dismissal or sanction to be fair. Generally speaking, employers should look to any underlying medical issues – such as alcohol and drug addiction or other mental health issues – and in those circumstances they may well be a little more understanding and supportive. Self-reporting may well work out better than if you try to hide what has happened.
However, the most important issue is this: your employer does not have to wait for the outcome of criminal proceedings before conducting a disciplinary hearing and dismissing or sanctioning you. Nor are they bound by the outcome of a criminal trial. If an employer decides through the disciplinary process that an employee’s conduct warrants dismissal, they are entitled to make this decision even if the employee is not charged.
You can expect your employer to carry out their own investigation, rather than just waiting for and relying solely on the results of the police investigation, before you are dismissed. This will give you the chance to explain your side of the story before reaching a decision as to sanctions. You may be suspended from work whilst this investigation is ongoing.
Be aware that, depending on the circumstances, the police may ask (and in some cases issue summonses) to see/hear the evidence that is gathered during the course of the investigation, particularly if you make an admission of criminal conduct.
And do not think you can necessarily hide any convictions from future employers. Unspent convictions and conditional cautions will be disclosed as part of even basic criminal records checks. Many employers will also ask for voluntary disclosure.
So think carefully before getting behind the wheel.