A criminal charge can change your life. Drunk driving — generally referred to as “operating under the influence” (OUI) by Massachusetts law — is a serious offense that some people mistakenly think won’t affect their lives in a significant way.

Any kind of conviction or guilty plea related to impaired driving could have a big effect on your personal and professional life. If you have previous OUIs/DUIs, potential consequences can be worse.

There are criminal consequences, which can include jail time and fines, as well as required educational programs, plus administrative penalties like the loss of your driving privileges. You should also consider the social and professional ramifications — the secondary consequences — of an OUI conviction.

If your employer finds out, pending charges can affect your career

Perhaps you didn’t miss a day of work because you were arrested. Maybe it happened over a holiday weekend or you were just able to call in sick to work and no one noticed. In that situation, you may feel like you can probably manage the fallout of the charges on your career.

However, just because your employer doesn’t know now doesn’t mean that the information won’t eventually reach your boss. Consider how quickly gossip travels. If even one of your co-workers knows about your arrest, it is very likely that others will find out eventually, too. Consider the fact that gossip tends to distort as it moves from person to person, and a third-hand account of your arrest could be very damaging to your career.

Losing your license can also affect your job

One of the first commitments you make as a new employee is to arrive on time and work your full shift for your new employer. Most companies frown on employees who are habitually late to work, even if that tardiness relates to issues with public transportation or carpooling.

When you don’t have a license, your schedule can suffer. You will not have control over when you arrive to places where you need to be. Instead, you may be at the mercy of public transportation or rideshare services. If you routinely come in late to work or miss important meetings because you don’t have transportation, it could mean disciplinary action, up to and including loss of your job.

Criminal records can affect your potential to get a new job or secure a promotion

Many career-minded people want to develop their professional lives over time. That means periodically seeking out better jobs and higher pay. A conviction on your record can make this much harder.

The OUI/DUI charge is likely to show up on most background checks in the state, which can affect whether a company will hire you. Some companies also pull background checks when determining whom to promote.

Ending up with a conviction or pleading guilty to pending OUI charges could affect your career, so your defense strategy is important. The sooner you take steps to protect yourself from pending charges, the better.