HR Management & Compliance

Off-the-Clock DUI Results in Termination—Does California Law Allow It?

by Cathleen S. Yonahara

An employee was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) on his own time in his own vehicle. His employer subsequently suspended his driving privileges and then terminated his employment when the employee wasn’t able to get the charges dismissed or find another position at the company that didn’t require him to drive a company vehicle. Did the employer violate Labor Code Section 432.7?

James Payne was employed as a claims representative at Farmers Insurance Co., Inc. for 8 years. On September 4, 2010, he was arrested on suspicion of DUI while he was off duty and operating his own vehicle. On September 30, he was questioned by Farmers and allegedly was forced to disclose his arrest.

On September 8, 2011, approximately 1 year after his arrest, Farmers notified Payne that his driving privileges associated with his employment had been temporarily revoked, that he was prohibited from operating any vehicle associated with Farmers, and that he had 90 days to resolve the charges against him.

On November 21, 2011, Farmers informed Payne that he was required to provide proof of an acceptable driving record before a company vehicle would be assigned to him and that he would be terminated if he didn’t find another position at the company that didn’t require him to use a company vehicle or to notify Farmers that the charges against him were dismissed. Payne applied for several jobs but wasn’t offered any of them. On February 24, 2012, Farmers terminated his employment.

Three months later, on June 25, 2012, Payne entered a plea of nolo contendere (no contest) to the DUI charge. The court found him guilty and put him on probation for 3 years. On November 19, 2013, he asked the court to terminate his probation early and dismiss the charges. The court denied the motion, stating it would reconsider his request after he had been on probation for 2 years.

On August 26, 2014, the court granted Payne’s renewed motion to terminate his probation, entered a plea of not guilty, and dismissed the case against him.

Over 1 year before this dismissal on April 23, 2013, Payne filed a lawsuit against Farmers alleging a violation of Labor Code Section 432.7 and wrongful termination in violation of public policy based on Section 432.7. Read the full details of the case to see how things turned out.