What feels like a million years ago, ok, it was 10…but I hate how I can say that now…I worked on checkouts in a supermarket, and it was all fun and games until I accidentally got caught selling alcohol to an underage kid…bet you want to hear that story now don’t you?
Go on, grab a brew, or a vino, and make yourself comfortable, I’ll wait.
So, there I was, 18 years old on a checkout, with about 15 minutes to go on a Friday late shift. Back then, the policy for selling alcohol was think 21 - if the customer didn’t look at least 21 then you had to ask them for proof of age. OH, the stories I could tell you about the cock and bull kids would come up with to try and convince me they were old enough - but we’ll save that for another time. These days, the policy is think 25, but have you seen some 16-year-olds? The look older than me and I’m almost 30!
So there I am, almost on my last customer of the night, and these two girls come long, looking a helluva lot older than my innocent 18-year-old self, buying nothing but a bottle of wine. Hand on heart, these girls looked a lot older than me, so it didn’t even dawn on me to question how old they were. Mistake. I served them, packed their bag, sent them on their way, closed up my till and went home. Job done.
The next day I get dragged into the office at the very start of my shift, thinking it’s one of those routine questionings about something and nothing, but no. Turns out, as I had left my check out two officers from trading standards had come into the store to arrest me for underage alcohol sales. I don’t know how it is now, but back then they could put you in handcuffs and take you out for questioning. (It happened about a year later to another colleague and they actually walked her through the store in handcuffs). Me. Me in handcuffs. But I hadn’t done anything wrong…had I?
I was pulled up in front of every manager the store could find, questioned about the sale over and over again. This was no routine check, no, thanks to my wonderful luck this was the check were trading standards wanted to threaten the stores' alcohol license and make an example out of me to others. You couldn’t have picked anyone better when you think about it; clean record, minimum sickness, never late, always working extra, I was a right goodie-two-shoes and they were going to take me down.
I cried. I cried so much. The store managers continued to question me shift after shift, I’ve never felt so bad in my life. At no point did they tell me to take union representation in with me, they even had a lawyer question me. But that wasn’t the scariest part. No. The scariest part was having to go to the police station and give my statement. I took my parents, I dressed demurely, spoke politely and protested that these girls looked older than me so of course, I served them. I apologised profusely. They started talking about records, CRB checks, how because I was 18 this would all follow me for a long ass time.
I cried. One bloody mistake, one bottle of wine and now I was going to have a mark against my name. At that point, I wanted to be a teacher, and when they asked me about future plans they said this little scratch against my name could make that all very difficult.
My store didn’t want to know, they didn’t want to help. They were too busy saving their own license to bother with me, as long as what I said went in their favour, they didn’t care about much else. When the union finally got wind of what was going on they went ballistic! I should have had representation from day one, I should never have talked to the store's lawyer alone. They’d sold me out, hook, line, and sinker, and now the union was desperately trying to salvage something to make a case for me.
I had to get a lawyer. I still walk past what was the lawyer's office almost every day now, and I can still remember how scary it felt walking in there, 18 years old, having made one stupid mistake. I knew people my age who had done much worse but now, I was being dragged through the thorn bushes over one bottle of wine.
This all went on for months. I wanted to quit my job, I looked elsewhere but nothing came up. I managed to get transferred to a different department but still, the case went on. Still, I had to answer questions - and I’m talking over 6 months down the line now since the initial thing had happened. Could I remember if she had a pink coat on? Was her hair in plaits, didn’t that give her age away? Did she smile at me? Did she pay with a £10 or £20 note? Over and over and over again.
Then, I got lucky. Seriously lucky. Everything went quiet. The questions stopped. The letters stopped. We phoned the lawyer who said he hadn’t heard anything for a couple of weeks. So we phoned trading standards; ‘Oh hi, so I’m the girl getting done for underage sales, any idea when you’re going to charge me or something?’. I asked the store managers, who looked at me blankly like the last several months hadn’t happened.
The case had been thrown out.
Turns out, after the initial sale and charge, they only had a certain amount of time to prosecute the store, and me. I want to say 6 months but it might have been longer. The person originally in charge of this particular case had left, and they had left their job in a complete mess. Whoever had taken over it had taken so long to get through said mess that by the time they came upon my case, it was too late to do anything with it, so into the shredder it went.
Shredded. Gone. No scratch. No big dirty mark against my name. Nothing.
It was over. And that was that.
If you work somewhere with rules, regulations, sales restrictions etc, take them seriously. Take them too seriously. I pretty much asked everyone after this for ID when buying alcohol, unless they were on zimmer frames. Asking for ID is nothing to be embarrassed about and those who are of age or older, genuinely love to be asked, I know I do! It’s those who kick up a fuss, who call you fit to burn for not selling them their crate that clearly has something to hide. 5 minutes of them moaning at you is well worth it compared to the alternative.
I made a mistake but I got lucky in the end and that doesn't happen every day.
Have you ever made a really stupid mistake at work?
Until next time,