This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES Denmark.
When you’re young, you’re dumb. Or you at least have trouble thinking further than five minutes into the future. Regardless, society insists that young people should enter the workforce as quickly as possible.
But combining responsibility with youthful folly doesn’t always end gracefully. Because although the people who work at grocery stores, bakeries, and gas stations are everyday heroes, not everyone manages this responsibility in the best way. And certainly not those whose brains aren’t yet fully developed.
MUNCHIES talked with four people who have one thing in common: all of them were fired from their part-time jobs when they were teenagers.
Peter (29), worked as a cashier at a grocery store
Shortly before I turned 18, I was working the registers at a grocery store. It was a horrible job, but it was one of the few that I could get. I don’t really know how it started, but at some point I started giving my friends free stuff during my shifts. It was too easy: I just scanned the item and entered it in again as a return. It was a ton of Bacardi Razz, champagne, movie gift cards, and other stuff. I worked twice a week, and one or two of my friends would come by each time to get a couple bottles of booze for us to drink that weekend.
One of my friends who visited most often would always wear his signature bright red jacket, and one of my coworkers remarked that he was there an awful lot when I was working. Out of all my friends, he was the one who took advantage of it the most—he’d stop by to pick up hair gel and all kinds of stuff. So management set shoplifting detectives on both of us.
One day when I showed up to work, I got called in to the office, where my boss, someone from higher management, and a union rep were all sitting. I knew what was up, of course, so I just spilled it all. Since I was under 18, my parents had to be notified, but I managed to convince my employer to give me 24 hours to tell them in person rather than over the phone. I was just like: under no circumstances can my parents find out about this, since I’d been getting into a bunch of other trouble at the time. I just couldn’t put my mom through it. So I got my friend’s big brother’s girlfriend to impersonate my mom on the phone.
We ended up reaching an agreement that I would pay some of the money back—we negotiated it to about $3,000—in exchange for not reporting me to the cops. Soon after that I turned 18, went to the bank, told them the story, got a loan for $5,000, and paid the store what I owed.
My parents still don’t know.
Lars (34), worked in the produce department at a grocery store
When I was 16 I had a job in Østerbro, the bougie north end of Copenhagen. I worked in a sleek and orderly produce department in an equally fancy supermarket. An apathetic, eternally hungover, and half-stoned teenager, I would shuffle around counting the minutes until I was off. Part of the job, of course, was to appear helpful and customer service-oriented, so it was important to give off the right vibe.
The store’s manager was constantly scolding me for loafing around with my arms crossed, signaling to the ladies of Østerbro that I wasn’t up for helping them find chanterelles or the best avocados. I managed to complete 10-15 shifts before one day I noticed my boss watching me from afar as I stood yawning in the corner playing ‘Snake’ on my Nokia 3210. He didn’t even have to say anything. I knew my supermarket career was over.
When I came to work a couple days later, there was a pink slip in my locker. I handed in my uniform and hightailed it out of there. It was fair enough.
Ulrik* (29), worked as a cashier at a grocery store
When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a job as a cashier. In Denmark we have this system where you return recyclable bottles to the store for a cash rebate—you put them in a machine that counts them and then gives you a voucher. But if the machine wasn’t working, we could print rebate vouchers at the register. So I tried doing precisely that. Not a huge amount, just 40 or 60 bucks. It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that you’d have to return a pretty hefty amount of bottles to get that much money back.
A month went by, and I was nervous as shit every time I went to work. But they hadn’t found out. And so one day I just couldn’t help myself and made one more—this time for $300. I didn’t get get busted for that one either. Despite the fact that I had to log in with my employee ID number every time I worked the register.
I felt like I’d outsmarted the system. The biggest rebate I’d faked so far was for $400. Then one Christmas season they called us all in and we were so busy that they didn’t make us log in. That day I left there with $1,500.
It sounds really devious, but every time I did it I was overwhelmed with guilt when I got home. I knew what the consequences would be if I got caught. The problem was that it was too easy.
After I’d been doing it for about ten months, I got a call from my boss asking me if I could stop by for a short meeting.
When I walked in, there was a pile of papers on the desk. It was a collection of all the times I’d done it: name, date, time, and amount. There was nowhere to run, and I actually found it relieving that they’d found out. I had faked recycling vouchers for the equivalent of enough money to buy a small Fiat.
They drove me to the police station, after which the police came to my house to search my room, where they found a large sum of cash. My parents were in shock. I hadn’t told a soul, not even my best friends. It was just too embarrassing. But I hadn’t been able to stop myself.
The next day I completely broke down. I called my boss and his bosses, crying, telling them I’d pay the entire amount back, and to please leave the police out of it. That turned out not to be possible, since the amount was so large it wasn’t just simple theft—it was embezzlement.
One year later I went to court. I got a suspended sentence since it was a first-time offense and because I had offered to pay all the money back. Which I did, and it took me ten years.
When I think back on it now, I have a hard time believing that it’s something I actually did.
Joakim (29), worked at a gas station
When I was 17, I worked at a gas station where I served hot dogs, fries, pastries, and stocked the shelves. We were allowed to eat as much as we wanted during our shifts, so it was perfect.
I’d been assigned shifts on Mondays and Fridays, but I wanted Fridays off, so I asked to get my schedule changed.
After six months, one of my coworkers quit and I finally got my Friday shift swapped out for Wednesdays. But even though I had requested this change myself, I still forgot to show up, and had to make up some bad excuse. And then I happened to forget my Wednesday shift three weeks in a row.
So they called me and told me it probably wasn’t the best idea that we continue working together. “We’re sure you understand,” they said.
*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of the source.