Danny was a drunk. There’s simply no nicer way to put it. He got away with his hard drinking because he was like the mailman: He was there no matter what — rain, sleet, or snow. Sadly, we all looked the other way. Danny’s story didn’t end well.
Later when I was working for another large commercial concrete contractor, a few of our foremen ended up in rehab because our boss didn’t look the other way. Don genuinely cared and made it possible for the guys to get treatment. Our boss went the extra mile, and his integrity paid off with loyalty and a boost in morale.
When I started in concrete, it was common to go to the shop at the end of the day to drink a case of beer with your crew, or go out and close down the tavern together. I’m not proud that we drank and then drove home. That was extremely stupid and irresponsible, in addition to perpetuating a certain negative stereotype. While I’m not harping on drinking, I’m simply raising what no one wants to talk about: What do we do about a DUI?
As a tradesman, if you end up with a DUI, you have the responsibility to let your boss know. On the off chance the boss needs you to drive a work vehicle or if you are going to need any accommodations, he needs your honesty to prevent any further problems. If you’ve become an insurance liability he deserves to know. In some regions, you have to hold a valid driver’s license to operate any motor vehicle once you cross the easement like a backhoe, front-end loader, or skidsteer. Your boss might not be covered on his insurance if your license is suspended or revoked when you operate machinery, and he’s not covered if you were behind the wheel of a company truck.
What can contractors do for their employees? Even if you wisely have a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol on the jobsite, anything can happen after hours. A DUI that happens off the clock is not necessarily a valid reason to terminate someone. If your worker ends up as a habitual DUI offender or if he’s arrested in the company vehicle, then it’s a no-brainer. But if someone is trained, knows the culture of your organization, and works like a pro but he messed up once, then think about keeping him working without penalizing him.
The lack of a driver’s license obviously makes it hard to get to the jobsite so caravaning is the number one remedy. The shop is usually the best place to rendezvous. Unfortunately, not everyone can get to the shop.
The case of Tom and Jerry
I once worked with Tom and Jerry, who became a matching set and they lived about 45 miles from the shop. Jerry had straightened up his act, but he couldn’t get his license because of his DUI offenses. Jerry was a phenomenal laborer, so it made sense to make the accommodations for him.
Thinking creatively, it’s possible to overcome any roadblock. The tradesman is responsible for dealing with his own consequences, but the boss can certainly take steps to help anyone find a ride who’s worth having on the job. We can’t assume caravaning will happen naturally, so everyone must be proactive in setting up rides.
Anytime you are convicted of a DUI, there’s a fear of the stigma that’s attached to it. The hardest foundation to rebuild is trust, so be upfront. Also, when you treat your people in the field fairly, they’ll bend over backward to give you their best. Using trust, respect, and open lines of communication paves the way forward from an all too common setback.
Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who is also a writer and communicator. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.