an underage intern told me she got drunk at a staff event

A reader writes:

Earlier this week I was chatting with our intern, Rachel, and another coworker about the staff team-building activity the previous week. (Once a quarter we plan a voluntary team outing. It’s pretty relaxed and in no way cringy or terrible, so it’s weird calling it team-building.) I happened to be sick and since I had helped plan this one, I said I was bummed to have missed out and asked if anything exciting happened. Intern Rachel says that I didn’t miss anything, just her getting a little drunk … (and wait for it) … because they didn’t card her!? I can’t even remember what I said afterwards I was so stunned, and not because I’m a teetotaler, but more that she would admit it in front of us later like it was a funny in-joke.

My coworker and I specifically picked a non-happy-hour event and decided not to serve booze in the food order because we had an underage team member. Which means she ordered it herself.

Obviously the best moment to correct this has passed (at the event itself, or when she told me), but I feel like I need to let her know that this was not professional behavior. But I’m at a loss for how to do so. I have zero supervisory capacity over her and I feel like bringing it to the attention of her manager is a step too far.

Rachel is a great intern from what I see — she asks thoughtful questions, is eager to learn, and has brought some great ideas into brainstorms. (I say this all with the caveat that my work itself is pretty different and separate from the rest of my team so I don’t see that much of her actually work, but we’re a small office, less than 10 people, and pretty collaborative.) She does have a small tendency to sometimes overshare and be a bit loud, but never in an annoying way, just a bit naive.

Has the moment gone to give her some friendly professional advice (even if it’s advice that I think would be pretty much common sense)? I think it’s from working at a university so long before this that makes me want to reach out and help, but I realize it’s not my job anymore.

I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to give interns helpful advice when you see something they’re really getting wrong, even if you’re not their manager (or to at least flag it for their manager so the manager can do it). Interns are sort of a community responsibility in that way — and especially when you have a pretty good rapport with them, which it sounds like you do with Rachel (or at least she’s comfortable enough with you to tell you about her drinking).

I agree with you that this isn’t something you’re obligated to take to her manager, but I do think you should say something to her — because if you don’t, she’s left with the impression that it was totally okay to (a) order alcohol she can’t legally have at a work event and (b) get drunk at a work event, and that it was a fine move to cheerfully announce it in front of colleagues.

And the window to do this hasn’t closed! It’s really common to not know how to react to something like this in the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go back and address it now.

You could say something like this: “I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day about getting a little drunk at the team-building dinner. It sounds like you didn’t realize this, but because you’re underage, you really can’t drink at work events. It can create legal liability for the company, and it’ll also come across as unprofessional. And even if you were a legal drinking age, you’d still only have a drink or two at most if it’s a work event — people don’t generally get intoxicated at work functions.” If you want to be really thorough, you could add, “There are some companies and some industries that are more lax about this, but we’re not one of them. If you’re ever unsure, it’s smart to watch what others are doing until you learn the norms of a company around this kind of thing.”

You could also say, “We’d actually specifically considered that you were underage and decided not to do a happy hour or include drinks in the group order for that reason. I know you might be used to contexts where underage drinking isn’t a big deal, but it’s different at work.”

Say it kindly and don’t use a lecturing tone, but do say it. And if you’re still hesitant, consider that by telling her this now, you might be saving her from a more embarrassing incident down the road — like if next time she says it in front of her boss’s boss or does something embarrassing after drinking at a work event. It’s a kindness to tip her off now.

{ 340 comments… read them below }

  1. subeme la radio*

    I wonder if OP is on the younger-side. It’s possible that the intern thought she could mention this to you because she sees you more as a peer. Not that she should be putting the company at risk like this, but I don’t think that just because she told one person, she’d necessarily tell anyone.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah in a lot of youth cultures underage drinking wouldn’t be a big deal (sorry but it’s accurate IMO) so she may just not understand that the work context makes it very different even if you two are close in age.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I was thinking this, too. I remember being in my 20’s and not really caring if underaged people around me drank or not, because it wasn’t my business to play housemother, as long as nobody got hurt. (Though this was in the 80’s when things like driving under the influence were a lot more overlooked.) Rachel is probably used to a more loosey-goosey party environment.

        If I were the LW I’d say something to Rachel and emphasize professionalism and company liability rather than trying to be Nancy Reagan and “just say no!”

        1. Shad*

          Even now, as a 25 year old today, as long as no one is driving under the influence, idgaf if my underage friends drink at a house party or two. And I’m definitely planning on celebrating their first (or nearly first) legal booze with them!

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            But that’s not at work. Drinking underage at a work event is reckless and inconsiderate. Bragging to a colleague about drinking underage at a work event is downright moronic. Not to mention that this is an internship, where most people focus on using their best behavior!

            Your situation isn’t comparable (and I certainly hope your underage friends know better than to drink at work).

      2. Dontlikeunfairrules*

        Totally agree, and I also wonder how many other employees (or interns) were drinking. I feel like there are a lot of details missing from the letter that would make the whole intern getting drunk thing even MORE normal. I’m not implying that the OP has intentionally left out information, just that there might be more involved than just a single intern deciding to drink.

        All of this is not to say it should be swept under the rug. The intern should absolutely be told it wasn’t cool. I’m just popping in to say that in my former industry of 20+ years, a drunk intern at a work dinner sometimes happened.

        1. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

          OP here, we are a really small firm (less than 20 people and probably around 10-12 at the event) and only have 1 intern at a time. I might check in with my other coworker to see if there was anything else going on that might have made it seem less shocking

    2. BottleBlonde*

      Yes, I had a similar experience as a young (~24) intern manager with a 19-year-old intern. Not as bad since nothing happened at a company event, but she did tell me about her weekend day-drinking on a friend’s family’s sailboat once when I asked how her weekend was. I don’t think I handled it well unfortunately, I just kind of bluntly said, “You probably shouldn’t tell me things like that” and changed the subject. I really like the language Alison suggested to avoid sounding harsh like I’m sure I did!

      1. TechWorker*

        It is pretty mind blowing to me (as a European) that drinking alcohol at 19 in a private venue (especially amongst family, though it sounds like it was her friends family rather than her own) is illegal. And not only illegal, but illegal enough to be shocked when someone tells you about it. It’s a very different attitude!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Really, it’s about knowing your audience, to be honest.

          Underage drinking gets a lot of different reactions. Like I’m not on board for calling the venue to tell them about this at all. It sounds so over the top.

          1. Erin*

            It’s not really over the top to let the venue know, because they can lose their liquor license for serving underage patrons. If it happened this time it could happen again.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              It’s overstepping and telling them how to run their business, when they know darn well that they need to be carding people. So it’s overkill and overstepping.

              1. kittymommy*

                Yeah, I think I’m with you. If the place is routinely not carding people then maybe they need to be dinged by the cops.

                1. Arts Akimbo*

                  When I worked a restaurant job a couple of decades ago, it wasn’t just the venue that would be dinged by the cops, though. The actual server who served the alcohol would be personally fined something like $5000. Working for only slightly above minimum wage, that would have been ruination for me. I cannot imagine not asking for I.D. After my ABC training, I was so scared of that fine I’d have carded my own mother!

              2. Psyche*

                I agree. It isn’t even first hand information. Maybe mentioning when booking that not everyone will be 21, but to call days later to tell them they served a 19 year old seems excessive.

              3. dramallama*

                Agree. Plus, I would guess that the venue didn’t card in this case was because they couldn’t wrap their heads around an underage employee ordering a drink in front of all her coworkers *and* nobody stopping her. Calling them to tell them they really can’t trust your business is not a good look.

                1. Anon just in case*

                  Maybe, but at my previous job I used to get carded ALL THE TIME when I went to work dinners/drinks with coworkers. Possibly because the fact that my coworkers were all middle aged men made me (at the time a late 20s woman) look younger? I don’t know.

                  My coworkers used to make fun of me every time until I suggested they were jealous. :-)

                2. Blerpborp*

                  Also they didn’t mention if maybe she had a fake ID (are those still a thing? they were when I was 20 but that’s 15 years ago!) It’s all quite funny to me because I was an intern when I was 21 but all my fellow interns where underage and regularly drank at work functions (events held in the office but also sometimes at outside venues) but never to the degree they were noticed for acting drunk enough that anyone worried about it. I’m sure office cultures vary and maybe this was wildly out of line for her industry but that would be the only case where I would even mention it to the intern.

              4. Seeking Second Childhood*

                It’s not overstepping to tell the owner that one waiter isn’t carding young looking customers. A business can get shut down over illegal sales to minors.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          The legal drinking age used to be 18, but it’s been raised to 21 in nearly every state. That didn’t stop me or anyone I knew from drinking in college (and even high school). We knew where to go to avoid being carded.

          Although adults can drink legally wherever they like, getting smashed at work events is pretty much frowned on. Some company cultures are more forgiving (or even expect it) but this doesn’t seem to be one of them.

              1. Susana*

                She said *almost* every state. And the reason it’s every state is that during the Reagan years, the feds used the stick of denying states part of their highway finding unless they raised to to 21. I was more than 21 then – and I think it’s an asinine age minimum. My sister was 19 or 20 then and I remember thinking that women her age got into fewer alcohol-related accidents than men the age of governors who raised the drinking age.

                It is absurd that you can go into the military at 18, get married (!!!!!) with parental permission at 15, but 21 to drink. It just makes college students binge drink.

                BUT – the law’s sense here is not the issue. Alison’s answer is right on the money.

                1. Sleve McDichael*

                  Rest assured, it’s not making college students binge drink. They’ll do it anyway. In my country the legal minimum age is 18, and so many young people leave home for the first time to go to college and suddenly they can drink and they have no experience and no supervision – so they get very drunk. But millennials and gen Z actually drink less than previous generations, it just looks more extreme when we’re older and not doing that anymore ourselves. So that’s a nice advertisement for the power of education.

                2. SunnyD*

                  Hmm, my brothers studied in Germany as teens, and both reported a ton of binge drinking, just bumped forward in time compared to the US due to the different legal drinking age. I don’t hear that about France, but do about the UK.

            1. McKramer*

              In WI, at least, you can drink at 18 if your parent is with you. So it’s not a “hard” 21, exactly.

              1. Jen S. 2.0*

                I believe there are several states where there are caveats, like at 16 you can have a beer or glass of wine with a meal if an adult buys it, or whatever.

                But you have to be 21 everywhere to independently purchase alcohol.

              2. SunnyD*

                My high school friend group had booze-avoidant evangelicals, booze-loving Catholics, booze-and-caffeine-avoiding Mormons, and some agnostic/atheist straight-edges. We managed ok.

              3. Kiwiii*

                In WI you can drink at any age if an of age parent or spouse is with you, at the restaurant’s discretion. I distinctly remember, only 8 or 9 years ago, getting daiquiris at a Mexican restaurant for my sister’s 16th birthday (I’d have been 17), and seeing cousins drink in restaurants even younger than that.

          1. noahwynn*

            Right? Maybe it was the area I grew up in, but it wasn’t a big deal, and this was the early 2000’s so not that long ago. I probably wouldn’t have pushed my luck at a work event, but we used to go bowling all the time in college because we knew the bowling alley would serve us pitchers of beer with no questions asked.

        3. Zombeyonce*

          In this case, I think it’s less about an underage person drinking (though, as Alison said, illegal things happening at a work event can cause problems for a company), but more about the intent getting drunk. That’s generally frowned upon at work events no matter what your age.

          1. Susana*

            Exactly, Also – not like it was at a party of some co-worker. It was a in a public restaurant where it could have been a legal issue for them.

        4. BottleBlonde*

          It is really strange, isn’t it? I was once carded and refused a wine glass at a BYOB, where I was dining with my *parents*, less than a month before my 21st birthday. It’s kind of silly!

          Regarding my intern, I can’t say I was shocked she was drinking underage (I too was a college student in America :)) but more so unsure how to respond to her openly sharing where anyone could overhear since I didn’t know what my colleagues would think ( I was quite new to the work world myself!).

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            The reason why they do this is because of their liquor license. They are precarious and the way they get you shut down is to rip your liquor license way.

            They shut down businesses here all the time by ripping licenses away for things that happen on the premises that isn’t even something the venue can always protect themselves against. A music venue was shut down because there was a fight outside one of their shows and someone went and got a gun, returned and shot someone. Outside. So they didn’t even have to go through security. But they pegged the venue. Ripped their only valuable asset away, which was their liquor license. Places have been shut down because of vagrancy issues outside of them as well.

            There are also huge fines for places if someone is caught smoking on the wrong patio. Fines that shut small places down because they’re made to be that crippling.

            So that’s why carding and door guards are so vicious. You usually get maybe one warning. And you can lose your ability to personally serve alcohol because a bartender has to have their own licensing. So it’s literally their livelihood on the line and many won’t take the risk for someone who’s even a month shy of their 21st and with their parents.

            Reminds me that one dispensary turned my 69 year old father away because he didn’t have his ID on him and everyone ever who walks into one of them has to show ID.

              1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                Depends on the state. Some states require BYO’s to get a special license.

              2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                I see it’s state to state because here that’s not the case! A space has to have a liquor license, otherwise liquor is unacceptable and you get ticketed for it. You cannot drink just anywhere, the liquor licensing commission wants as much control over where you’re drinking as possible to avoid public intoxication issues.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              ^^This. I do events and it’s no joke. Venues take this very, very seriously because losing a liquor license will be catastrophic.

        5. C Baker*

          Laws vary from state to state, and in some states it’s not illegal if it’s your own parents supplying the alcohol.

          1. Anonymeece*

            Yup! I remember drinking margaritas as restaurants when I was as young as 14, because the law stipulates that a parent/guardian can buy alcohol for their underage children and it isn’t illegal.

            We found out the hard way that wasn’t the case in Florida, when the waitress nearly had a heart attack when my dad let me try his mint julep.

            I think in this case, it was more about that it is a weird thing that people are going to flag when in a work context (as opposed if she said, “Oh, I had a few glasses of wine with my parents!” or something), and definitely you shouldn’t getting anywhere near drunk at a work function.

            1. CoffeeforLife*

              Haha! I remember drinking margaritas with my mom when I was that age. Could not imagine getting sloshed with a young teen now!

        6. Librarianne*

          Some states have slightly different laws. Where my father lives (Wisconsin), people under the age of 21 are allowed to drink alcohol if they’re with a parent or guardian. However, this exception still isn’t well known, and I was routinely refused service.

          Most people in the US wouldn’t be shocked to hear that an underage person drank a little alcohol at a family event, but people have differing degrees of self-righteousness about it. In any case, I agree that no one should talk about behavior that’s illegal when they’re at work, no matter how socially accepted it may be!

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Technically, your parents can only give you alcohol at bar/restaurant if you’re under 18 – between 18 & 21 you’re an adult and your parents can’t ‘speak’ for you. This confuses people a lot, and depends on region of the state if the bar cares a lot or not (shoutout to the bar that gave me a beer & a t-shirt for my first buck at the age of 19).

            Hello fellow Wisconsinite!

          2. Anonysand*

            Fun fact: In Indiana, you can’t even enter a bar if you’re under 21. It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent and bringing your kid along while you grab some wings and watch the game- under 21, no entry.

            1. Sandman*

              Yep. After a bad experience at a brewery being stuck in a small, crowded room with everyone else who had kids, we completely avoid Indiana breweries now. It’s better to wait until we’re in Michigan or Illinois.

            2. Parenthetically*

              In some states, you can’t bring your kid into a liquor store! Like… am I supposed to leave my toddler in the car? That’s… also bad?

              1. That Would be a Good Band Name*

                That also applies to Indiana. And we *just* started to be able to buy alcohol on Sundays.

                1. Environmental Compliance*

                  We live in Indiana now, and the first time I tried to buy a bottle of wine (to cook with, mind you, it was crappy two buck chuck) at a grocery store and they took it away from me I was so confused, and then so irritated. It’s 2 PM on a Sunday, let me make my venison stew, dammit!

                2. Retired Accountant*

                  Indiana, where you can buy Everclear at the drugstore, but not cold beer.

                  (In my state you can buy cold beer at the gas station but Everclear is not legal at all.)

                3. Belle of the Midwest*

                  I’ve lived in Indiana for several decades and watched the liquor law debates with interest. The liquor store owners were the ones who fought the repeal of the Sunday blue laws, as they didn’t want to have to open their stores seven days a week, and they had a very lucrative and powerful lobbying machine for many years. And the law as we have it now is that it can only be sold from noon to 8:00pm. I am pretty sure that was a concession to the liquor owners, so they wouldn’t have to be open until after church. (yes, we’re still in the Bible belt here)

              2. Helena*

                In contrast, the LCBO (Ontario state-run liquor store) near our house gives my two year old free popsicles! Very different attitude.

        7. Retired Accountant*

          It’s not that it’s “illegal enough to be shocked when someone tells you about it”, it’s a pretty minor offense in most places. But I think it can lead a listener’s mind pretty quickly to “Well, what other kinds of laws do you think it’s okay to break?” I mean, I wouldn’t come into the office on Monday morning bragging about how I made record time on a road trip by pinning the spedometer to 95 mph the whole way, either.

          It’s definitely knowing your audience. I went to a Catholic college, and drinking laws were regarded as gentle suggestions. But I wouldn’t have ordered a drink underage at a work function, much less more than one. It shows poor judgement for a variety of reasons and I think Allison’s script is good here.

          1. TechWorker*

            Tbh I think there are few laws that come close to drinking laws in their complete lack of effect on anyone else. Sure you can think it’s sensible that 20 year olds don’t drink, but the chance of it causing anyone except for themselves harm is about zero (or rather – of course a 20 year old can drink and do irresponsible things, but so can a 21 year old). It’s very different even to speeding imo, which can and does cause accidents!

            1. President Porpoise*

              … A kid I knew in middle school died when he was out drinking in the mountains at a party which was specifically held for the purpose of underage kids drinking. He had not gotten particularly drunk, but his ride was sloshed, and rolled into a canyon at 80 mph in a 40 zone. So, I don’t agree with your assessment that it hurts no one but the drinker.

              Part of drinking is that your inhibitions fail, and you do really dumb things – and teenagers are not well known for their great judgement when sober. It’s really too easy for a teen to get drunk and drive, get pregnant, get in a fight, get sexually aggressive, whatever – easier, I think, than someone of legal age since their frontal cortex in not yet fully formed. All of those things affect someone else.

              1. TechWorker*

                I should have clarified – this type of underage drinking. I truly believe an 18/19/20 year old is at no different risks to a 21 year old.

                Alcohol is dangerous at all ages (x100 if you put driving into the mix), I’m not disputing that. I’m disputing that 19 vs 21 makes the drinker any more or less responsible.

                1. President Porpoise*

                  In this case, yes. But if intern got drunk and decided that the time was right to fondle Fred in Marketing – well, that wouldn’t be good for the intern or Fred.

              2. President Porpoise*

                Also, I know I’m probably oversensitive about this given my experience, but irresponsible drinking (which I would argue all illegal underage drinking without a parent or guardian present qualifies as) can definitely affect many lives other than the drinker, sometimes in ways that are deeply tragic. Intern didn’t just drink, she got drunk at a work function which doubly qualifies as irresponsible drinking.

                1. Parenthetically*

                  This is basically where I come down. We can debate all day along about the merits of having an older or younger drinking age, but an underage person getting wasted at a work event is… ridiculous and irresponsible.

                2. Zillah*

                  The intern said she got a little drunk, not that she got wasted. The former isn’t a great idea, but it’s not at all the same thing as the latter, and it’s really important not to conflate them.

                3. Susana*

                  Right, but getting a little drunk a a company event at 21 is no less irresponsible.

              3. Zillah*

                But rolling into a canyon at 80 mph in a 40 zone is something that people of all ages unfortunately do and that could kill anyone – and our prefrontal cortexes often aren’t fully developed until we’re in our mid-twenties. I’m not advocating for heavy underage drinking, but I don’t think that this is really the best argument against it.

              4. Shad*

                So he was harmed not because someone drank underage, but because someone drove drunk. They are related but separate issues.

          2. blackcat*

            Yeah, I DGAF about a 19 year old drinking booze. But taking about *any* illegal activity at work isn’t a good idea.

          3. 202Lawyer*

            This. OP’s intern straight up admitted to breaking a law during a work event. Is it a silly law, maybe? Is it one many of us have broken? Definitely. But it’s still a law and this incident would undoubtedly reflect poorly on the company if word of it got out, to say nothing of the legal ramifications. You cannot give employees the idea that it’s okay to break the law at work events, period.

            OP you may also want to do some digging here. Intern was at an event with numerous other employees, one of them should have taken notice that she was drinking (especially if she was “drunk” as she herself said) and put a stop to it then-that was the ideal time to address it. It shouldn’t all be on you to address this situation after the fact when you didn’t even attend the event. I’d say that may be the best way to approach it now–have someone senior who was actually at the event pull intern aside and say, “hey, I noticed you were ordering drinks for yourself at event the other day, I just want to let you know that illegal behavior is never okay during work hours and generally you’ll still want to keep an eye on how much you’re consuming at work events even when it’s legal for you to drink.”

            1. Zillah*

              This feels like overkill to me – and what does roping someone in accomplish in the first place? The intern explicitly told the OP that she got a little drunk, and the OP can address it – making it a group effort feels ridiculous.

              1. 202Lawyer*

                I think you need to rope someone else in because I think all the others that didn’t do anything are actually the bigger issue here. Intern told OP about getting drunk, Intern clearly doesn’t realize what is and is not appropriate to discuss in the workplace and that’s a problem. But I think the much bigger problem is that a number of OP’s colleagues who may have been witness to the event actually saw the intern drinking underage, and did nothing to stop it. It’s actually kind of great that the Intern overshared here because at least someone (OP) is thinking about saying something, but if the Intern hadn’t overshared Intern might continue to think that underage drinking at work events is acceptable because no one that was actually there told them otherwise.

                This is also why looping someone else in to verify what others actually saw happening is important since OP wasn’t there. It’s possible Intern wasn’t actually drinking and their comment was a very misguided attempt to seem “cool” in front of OP, it’s possible Intern was drinking but took steps to conceal it from everyone else there which means Intern already knew on some level that it wasn’t okay to do at a work event and did it anyway. it’s possible that OP’s colleagues all saw and looked the other way. Either way, I think that OP, having not been there, needs to get more info from someone who actually was so they can figure out which of these problems actually need to be addressed and how best to move forward.

                1. Zillah*

                  This is a huge amount of responsibility to put on the OP, who doesn’t seem to be high up in management. Why is it her job to track down and police who noticed the intern drinking and grill them about whether they knew she was underage?

                2. Former Employee*

                  Why would anyone else have noticed? If she drank a vodka Collins, it would look club soda. A screwdriver could have been orange juice. A rum and coke would look like a coke There are many alcoholic drinks that look like something else. In fact, many people who do not wish to drink but have no desire to announce it simply carry a non-alcoholic drink around with them and let others think it has alcohol in it.

                  As far as her getting a little drunk, if she tends to be a bit loud and giggly when sober, if she was a bit more so at the event, people probably just chalked it up to her being in a social setting where people can act more exuberant than they do at work.

        8. wittyrepartee*

          It’s linked to the fact that it’s more common for people to have their driver’s license from age 16 on. The whole thing is silly- people drink when they’re in college, but it’s not something that you want to tell your supervisor because they might care.

        9. CommanderBanana*

          I grew up in Europe and yes, attitudes about underage drinking are very, very different in the US.

        10. AnnaBananna*

          I actually totally agree with you. I grew up with a best friend’s family that allowed their children the occasional glass of wine at dinner, and they grew up pretty respectful of their limits.

          1. londonedit*

            I grew up in the UK and in my family we always had a small glass of wine with Sunday lunch, or a weak Pimm’s in the summer at family barbecues, or whatever. My parents drank wine every evening with dinner, we’d frequently go to the pub as a family…it just wasn’t a big deal. I grew up with a sensible attitude towards alcohol – of course I overindulge sometimes, doesn’t everyone, but I grew up knowing what I liked and not feeling the need to get smashed just for the sake of it. Friends of mine whose parents wouldn’t let them drink found it hard to know their limits when they went to university and suddenly had access to as much booze as they wanted (the legal drinking age here is 18 and most people are 18 when they go to uni).

            I also used to go to the local pub with my friends from the age of about 15 or 16, and we’d get served – everyone knew the pubs where they’d turn a blind eye if you were under 18 as long as you didn’t cause trouble.

            1. Pandop*

              Yes, my upbringing was similar to this. I was allowed to drink at home with dinner/on special occasions, I went to the pub with friends underage, and despite living in a small town never got refused service, because people knew the mixed-age group I was with, wasn’t one that caused trouble.
              I was always allowed to try whatever my parents were drinking, so by the time I was able to go out, I knew my limits and what I did and didn’t like. I have indulged to the point of wobblyness/not caring, but never to the point of total loss of control/vomiting.

        11. Due estupide tedeschi*

          As a 20 year old German guy, I am so glad that I don’t live in the US. They call it “the land of the free” but an adult can’t even enjoy a beer, at work or at home.

        12. Cara Kelly*

          It isn’t. It’s illegal to buy it, or serve someone underage, but not illegal for them to drink. It really depends on the state, but most places, as long as they aren’t a MINOR, it’s fine.

      2. TPS Cover Sheet*

        No, I am European as well, but I am Nordic with draconian licencing laws (we have ”dry counties”) and even getting a spliff is easier than buying a beer for a teenager, you have some bloody decorum! Seriously. And I’m a happy-go-lucky and understand stuff but yeah, even in ”Europe” flaunting that you ”done one in” is not kosher.

        Especially as I worked in the hospitality industry before IT and know my profession and licengcing test ( I have been certified, mom!) having an underage caught by the state inspectors that company had gotten barred and on the shitlist even they were our catamites.

        1. Cara Kelly*

          This wasn’t at work, it was on the weekend, on their freetime. If that could get them fired, there is something wrong with that company.

    3. Myrin*

      OP says she’s been working “so long” at a university before this current job, so I’d peg her as at least 30-ish, but of course even that could be viewed as “younger side” by an intern, especially if their other coworkers are older. But regardless of that, I did want to point out that Rachel didn’t only tell OP but also “another coworker” who was present during the conversation as well – I feel like that interaction is really a good example of what OP calls “a small tendency to overshare” on Rachel’s part.

      1. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

        Myrin, you are spot on. I’m late 20s, and worked in student services at a university for the beginning on my career. So my instinct to help those young bumbling college kids find their professional legs is strong.

  2. Ginger*

    Oooh intern stories. Can’t wait for more of these as the summer progresses :)

    OP – it might be helpful to call out to her that she might see coworkers getting a bit tipsy (or acting a bit looser than they do in the office which may not be due to drinking at all but I can see how a college-age person might think that) and share with her that no matter your position – intern, team member, CEO – getting drunk at work is just not a good idea and many people still need to learn that. She might have seen others drinking and assumed it was cool with the company’s culture.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Maybe show her some AAM columns about what can happen when people get drunk at work! Definitely play up the “it’s not professional to get drunk at work, it makes a bad impression on the higher-ups, and you don’t want to have any regrets the day after!” and not “tsk, tsk, naughty child!”

    2. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I’d say this is a good route. I’m inclined to think she’s just new to these work social events and doesn’t get that getting drunk isn’t appropriate usually (although my department events have been a tad boozy…)

    3. Anonymeece*

      It’s also even more important since she is an intern to present herself in a professional context. It’s not a great look for anyone, but some people have built up enough capital that they can survive a mistake like getting tipsy at a work event, versus an intern with no capital.

    4. RandomU...*

      I agree with this. It’s just fine for the OP to talk to the intern about this. I had to do it with a bunch of coworkers before an event that we were part of. I’m a manager, but not their manager, so it could have been awkward, especially since I’m generally not keen on telling other adults what behavior is acceptable (I like to think they already know this unless proven wrong).

      If I remember correctly I slipped it in between schedule and dress code. I said something along the line of… “You’re all adults and most have been to these events before, but here’s your obligatory reminder that there will be alcohol and lots of it. If you want to drink and enjoy yourself, go for it. Don’t be the drunk guy everyone tells stories about the next day. If you don’t want to drink, you don’t have to. Politely decline if a customer offers you one or carry a ‘stunt’ drink if you feel self conscious or need a break from the potent ones”

    5. Politico*

      “I know you might be used to contexts where underage drinking isn’t a big deal, but it’s different at work.”

      Cue the guffaws from anyone who ever interned in Washington.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Yeah, I can think of a few jobs in which booze + under 21 in professional settings wasn’t a big deal. In fact, if I remember correctly, it’s really the server’s responsibility to card this poor child. It’s only a serious faux pas if it was a work-catered event, in which yes their is definitely a responsibility to keep the booze away from them.

        I guess I’m not really seeing why we’re all clutching our pearls?

        1. sacados*

          I don’t think it’s pearl clutching.
          Like Alison said, there are workplaces where it wouldn’t be a big deal. And many of the commentariat here also don’t feel that it’s a huge deal.
          But better safe than sorry. Especially when you’re an intern who is a) looking to make a good impression and b) needs to be seen as Serious and Professional and not an immature kid — then it’s good advice to tell the intern that hey, some people aren’t going to approve of casually mentioning how you drank underage so it’s best not to talk about that stuff at work.

          1. clueless intern*

            Yeah. It might be that I’m waayyy out of line but I’m an under 21 intern at a large engineering firm. I tend to joke about being younger than everyone else when drinks come up (and play up the straight laced vibe) but everyone else in my office does ‘beer-thirty’ in the afternoon and they *always* offer me a drink. I worked at a smaller firm last summer and when they realized that they didn’t make any virgin margs offered me a real one! (Point being: I’ve worked in 2 firms which not only offered me alchohol underage but offered me alchohol thinking that the first time I’d try a sip was *at work*)

        2. tangerineRose*

          “this poor child”? She blamed the servers, too, but she knew what she was doing. It’s not like the servers slipped alcohol into the punch.

    6. Manon*

      This would be helpful to introduce the concept of ‘having A (1) drink in a professional setting’ as opposed to ‘drinking to get drunk.’ Especially in college a lot of young people only drink to get intoxicated.

      1. Genny*

        I think this is a key point to communicate. If you’re drinking at a work function, the goal is mild social lubricant, not get as close to the line as possible. Personally, I’d recommend staying far away from your normal limit just in case something’s a bit off (e.g. stronger drink than normal, didn’t eat enough food, under the weather/on medication, etc.). The risk of getting tipsy or drunk at a work function isn’t worth the enjoyment of that extra drink or two.

  3. Observer*

    Yes, you would be doing her a favor. We’ve had enough stories here about people who had too much to drink at a work event, that you can search the archives to see just how badly this can go.

    1. VioletEMT*

      Yup. I read this and thought, ‘Oh, kiddo…’

      You’d be doing her a kindness. And you can emphasize that she’s not in trouble, and you’re not going to talk to her manager, etc. – this is just a discrete heads-up from one colleague to another. Like the behavioral version of “You have something in your teeth.”

    2. jamberoo*

      Can confirm. We had a younger new hire toss back a smidge too much during an offsite and all of a sudden she was sitting on our boss’s lap. Y I K E S.

        1. jamberoo*

          Boss did his best: laughingly said, “nope, no, sorry, no” while half-standing to slide her off his lap. She’d literally been with us maybe three weeks; this was two years ago, and I cannot for the life of me rectify it against the bastion of professionalism she has been ever since — THANK GOD.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            I bet that it’s a moment that lives in the darkest, most shame filled parts of her mind.

          2. wittyrepartee*

            I’m going to admit that a few years back I got drunk at a work event when I worked for a fairly toxic consultancy, and I (chastely) hugged a boss goodbye. I dunno, he’d been one of the few people there who was nice to me. *second cringe*

            1. jamberoo*

              Yeah, that reminds me that I’ve kinda sorta been there myself, too. A coworker was leaving a nice dinner event, so I stood and really awkwardly hugged him. He just stood there and said, “Oh, we’re hugging” and I died inside.

              Still not as embarrassing as the two – TWO – times I forgot to lock the bathroom door and dudes walked in on me. I now can’t stop looking at the door lock the whole time I’m in there :(

            2. Anon because it seems like a good idea right now*

              Speaking as a recovering hugger of colleagues (I was younger and more naive), it’s just the way things go in some fields. IME: some nonprofits, some political campaigns, and early childhood educators. But for all I know maybe there are also huggers in investment banking, corporate law, real estate, military contracting…?

              I’m not trying to revive the hug-or-not-hug discussion. See AAM archives. In fact I’m now cringing.

    3. sacados*

      Oh god, work drinking stories.
      I have so many….
      Like, the time when I walked into a Friday beer-o’clock event being held in the break room just in time to see one of the supervisors standing on a table with his pants pulled down, about to demonstrate how he could snap a wooden chopstick with his ass?

      This was … not in the US.

        1. LunaLena*

          There’s a Gaki No Tsukai (a famous Japanese comedy troupe) clip where a comedienne dressed as Catwoman does this, though I seem to remember she used a pencil, not a chopstick. You might be able to find it on YouTube.

          (I’m guessing this happened in Japan. The work/drinking culture in East Asia is certainly… different. Also male nudity is considered hilarious there.)

  4. subeme la radio*

    Also, to me, this sounds a lot like she’s trying hard to be cool. Maybe, you could reinforce that she’s an interesting / worthy person the way she is without being condescending.

    1. AngryAngryAlice*

      Yeah I agree with this. I do a full-body shudder every time I remember the things I said during my internships to “seem cool.” Some of them were wildly inappropriate, and I probably should have known that at the time given my age… but the learning curve in thought processes and understanding of professional norms between 19-21 and your mid/late-twenties is pretty vast. It would be a huge kindness to let her know that this kind of thing (and oversharing in general) is not a good look.

      1. Mel*

        Yes. I remember a friend telling me they’d gotten tipsy off half a daiquiri at Ruby Tuesdays, back when we were way underage and drinking was so grown up. It looks different when you’re young.

    2. kittymommy*

      Yeah that’s what I was thinking as well. It would be interesting to know how old the intern and the LW.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      I could totally see this being the case. When you’re young, the ability to get drunk is way cooler than it is when you’re older. Heck, there’s even a chance that she might be exaggerating what actually happened in a misguided attempt to seem grown-up or cool. “A coworker ordered a couple bud lights and offered me one” is a less fun story than “oh yea I totally got a little drunk at a work event, nbd”, and definitely a story I could see a young person telling.

      The advice still stands, both for the behavior, and that she should know that coworkers aren’t the right audience for a story like that.

  5. Vanilla Ice*

    There could also be potential legal and/or safety ramifications here. It sounds like everything turned out okay on this ocassion, but in addition to Alison’s advice, I would definitely be cautious about putting myself in future situations where the intern might have access to alcohol.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yes. Back when I was a teenager there was a girl who had a serious drinking problem, despite having epilepsy. She didn’t learn her lesson until she collapsed during a school trip. Her mother was not happy at all.

    2. AnnaBananna*

      Nope. At least in the three states that I have served alcohol. The onus was strictly on the server. The exception to that is if it’s an in house catering event where you’re self-serving. Some large cities even require a permit for alcohol pouring. In that case, yes the employer is responsible. But as the example from the OP? Not even a little bit legal liability, outside of the scope of letting any colleague drive away drunk.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        There may, however, be reputational liability issues depending on their field even if legally it’s the server’s job to card rather than the company’s job to police their employees. “Tech company let 20 year old intern have a beer at work event” makes for a boring headline, but “k-12 education-related non-profit allowed minor to drink at work event” has legs, particularly in a smaller media market (I once lived in a small town where people picketed outside the elementary school after the principal was busted for smoking pot while on vacation in a completely different location once the local paper picked it up). The seriousness of this depends a lot on the field.

  6. President Porpoise*

    Would it be appropriate to flag it for the venue? Just because it was a corporate event does not mean that they shouldn’t have followed all legally required procedures.

    1. I have a liquor license and I know how to use it*

      I wouldn’t flag it for the venue, I’d let that go. It would only make things awkward in the future and they might even choose not to do business with you. (That said the venue should have known better and carded anyone that looked close to drinking age.)

    2. Justme, The OG*

      Definitely tell the venue. In extreme circumstances they could lose their liquor license for serving underage customers.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        My local news rag leads with stories like, 19 year pulled over. Blew a 0.03. Leaving a corporate event.

        Interns driver’s license is instantly suspended, and has the pleasure of shilling out $20K to hopefully keep her license fighting it in court.

        Establishment liquor license GONE, until you lawyer through the whole process of getting it back. $$$$$ spent.

        Corporate gets dragged though the PR mud.

        Are a couple rum and cokes the crime of the century? I say no. I don’t make the laws. I don’t live in a dry county/state that frowns on adult beverages. My sister company had a similar thing happened. The parents called the company, the restaurant and the cops.

        Now all interns under 21 are not allowed attend corporate events where alcohol is served.

        Nothing bad happened the above intern. Had Rachel sailed her car into a ditch or hurt someone else, Rachel’s attorney will go after everyone they can.

        I used to drink with the ER staff when I was 18 in 1982 at 7am in the morning. No one cared, and I know I would easily blow over 0.08 back then. Those days are long gone.

          1. Anon because it seems like a good idea right now*

            Please come back and tell us it was after the shift ended, and a particularly upsetting shift at that.

            1. KarenK*

              It’s not unusual for hospital staff to go to a bar after their shift, even if their shift ends at 7 or 8 am. I’m sure they weren’t drinking on duty. Remember, their 7 am is most people’s 5 or 6 pm.

      2. AnnaBananna*

        As a past pro drink slinger, I agree. The manager needs to know which server almost cost them a fine.

    3. uranus wars*

      I would definitely let the venue know it happened. They probably need some retraining or reinforcements in this area. When I was in food service I remember people being very “what’s the big deal?” and needing reminders a lot.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        The best training I have ever received was when I worked in Vegas. They do their food/liquor training perfectly. You have to go to a four hour class before they’ll let you have their serving card (basically a license to sell booze), and the class consisted of determining age and how to keep the customer sober through types of food you suggest (mostly fats).

    4. Zach*

      I’d be as vague as possible if you notify the venue- make it something that they’d be inclined to schedule a meeting with the entire staff.

      From working in restaurants myself in the past and knowing plenty of others who currently do, restaurant owners tend to go on weird power trips since there’s basically no protections for service industry workers, especially if they’re part time.

      Assuming good faith on the server/bartender’s end, their behavior should be corrected as opposed to just outright being fired. If you give specifics about a date and time, I’d say there’s more than a 50% chance that person will be fired, so just be vague and mention that it occurred- that’s all.

      1. Clisby*

        The server/bartender might not even be at fault. What if someone (of legal age) went to the bar, ordered a couple of beers, and then gave one to the intern? That wouldn’t surprise me.

    5. Moray*

      I’ve never seen anyone carded at a company party. I think it’s standard to assume that everyone in the working world is over 21 unless otherwise noted.

      I would flag it for the person within the organization who makes reservations; next time there’s an event at a restaurant/bar that has underage employees attending, they should give the place a heads-up.

  7. Pam*

    Along with speaking to the intern, I would reach out to the venue, letting them know about what happened. Their staff might need retraining on this.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This. The venue should probably update their ServSafe training, or get it if they haven’t had it.

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      This is a good point! The venue staff needs to be checking ID’s just as they would if they were at a bar.

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      I found it interesting that the assumption is that Rachel ordered for herself.

      When we are ordering lunch/making a coffee run, I’ll often make a point of offering to cover our student worker’s order, because I’ve been a poor student. I could definitely see someone offering to buy Rachel a drink, not realizing/remembering that she’s underage.

      Sure, Rachel still shouldn’t have taken the drink in that case, but there’s a whole spectrum from “opportunity to drink, and on someone else’s dime, sweet!” and “I tried to decline, Fergus insisted and bought the drink anyway and I didn’t want to be rude.”

      1. Agent J*

        This is a good point. It could also explain why the venue didn’t card her if she did order for herself; I’ve attended many corporate events where I wasn’t carded (as an intern and now). She might have thought it was better to go along than to bring attention to her being underage. Regardless, it will be a kindness for OP to tell Rachel.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        Going even further past the “I tried to decline,” there have definitely been incidences where people have gotten very, very mad at me for declining a drink after I already said that I didn’t want one and they got me one anyways even after I’ve cited that my medication makes it dangerous for me to have even small amounts (the dosage where I risk poisoning is ~25mg of 100% ethanol, or ~.0025 ml). If Rachel has been in situations where people get angry, and she’s not at risk, she might have just drank it assuming that there would have been consequences for refusing!

        Although the fact that she brought up that they didn’t card her does suggest that she ordered it herself. There’s some states that have laws saying that parents can buy children certain drinks in certain amounts, and if OP lives in one of those, it wouldn’t be unusual for someone not to be carded if a drink was bought for them.

        1. Half-Caf Latte*

          yes, that sort of reaction is sort of what I was envisioning. People can be seriously bent out of shape over people not drinking, and if you’re young, and have an older /more powerful coworker really pressuring you to take a drink, you might not know how to handle that. Obviously, still not great and clearly out of sync with the OPs culture, but leads to a very different conversation with intern.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Honestly, I don’t really know /how/ to handle that peer-to-peer when “no, I will actually die” doesn’t work. Getting up and leaving is fine when it’s a party, but a work event is probably something else entirely, isn’t it.

    4. Ella*

      Calling the venue seems a bit like overkill to me. Perhaps if you knew the owner personally, or if you had multiple events at this venue and knew them serving underage people was an ongoing problem, but beyond that I think you run the risk of causing more problems than you solve.

        1. Judy Johnsen*

          I think it is fair to give the venue a heads up. She did not personally witness this, but maybe just say to them that, generally, there is word out that they serve underage patrons, because they do not card then. No need to get specific.

          1. Ella*

            But why? Every restaurant knows they shouldn’t be serving underage patrons, and can get in trouble for doing so. If bartenders are regularly neglecting to ID people, the venue has bigger problems than one phone all from the letter writer will solve, and if this was a one off mistake then a call from the letter writer is more likely to get uninvolved servers yelled at/someone fired than to fix a major problem.

            And underage drinking is illegal, sure, but I don’t there’s a moral or legal imperative to escalate things any further in this case. It would be kind to give the intern in question a heads up that it’s not terribly professional to drink at a work event if you’re underage, or to talk about drinking underage while at work, but anything beyond that is getting into mountain out of a molehill territory.

      1. pcake*

        Speaking as an ex-bar manager, please do let them know. If that one person is fired, it’s better than everyone at the venue losing their jobs when they lose their liquor license. And the person who served the intern may be guilty of other judgement lapses, like serving obviously intoxicated persons more booze, which could have fatal consequences.

  8. Jerk Store*

    Someone probably has better wording than me, but I might add that “Did anything exciting happen at Event?” doesn’t mean the same thing in most office environments as it does socially, especially among college students and other young adults. Socially it’s understood why one might see that as an opening to talk about who drank too much, who flirted with whom, etc.

    1. LawBee*

      I’d say it worked really well though – knowing that the office intern is being served illegally and getting drunk at a work function is pretty important to know.

    2. Antilles*

      Agreed. It’s not really the same thing as when you get asked that in a purely social setting outside of work.
      With a co-worker, the optimal answer to “did anything exciting happen at Corporate Event?” is either (1) a vaguely generic “it was great, lots of fun, really enjoyed [bowling/dinner/whatever]” OR (2) mention something work-related – the speaker at the conference really knew a lot about llama grooming, had a great conversation with a potential client, really enjoyed getting the opportunity to interact with with the chocolate teapot division, etc.

    3. DataGirl*

      In my workplace, ‘did anything exciting happen at the Event’ means was there drama, usually: did anyone have a screaming fight or freak out over anything? Did anyone get fired/ escorted out/ show up wasted / get found out to be a not-so-secret Nazi*? But my workplace is dysfunctional…

      *true story

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah it’s more like “Was the food good? Did anyone have anything interesting to day?” in an even semi conservative workplace that I’m noticing at least.

      Then there are my general workplaces where it really does mean “Did someone publicly embarrass themselves?”

    5. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

      OP here, I don’t remember exactly the words I used, but essentially the sentiment was did you all have fun, what was it like (since I missed out on my planning, I was a little invested in the experience being nice for everyone) I dont think I said it in a way to incite gossip, but it’s a good reminder that interns don’t know all the professional cues and are probably using their regular social cues. Thanks!

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    She sounds like lacks filter and since she overshares other times, you have plenty of times to speak up and give her a heads up that she’s coming across unprofessionally. It’s more than just the underaged drinking.

    I smiled briefly still remembering how I was given wine by a supervisor when I was underage and she was shocked but thankful when I pushed it back with a “oh thank you! But I’m still underage, I don’t want to get you in trouble.” [It was really to save me from having to explain where a bottle of wine came to my parents that I still lived with at the time but whatever.] So I’m glad that you’re mindful that you have someone underage on staff!

  10. Ralph Wiggum*

    If I were the intern’s manager, I’d definitely want to be informed. Interns are usually being evaluated for full-time positions, so I’d care about any professionalism issues.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      I manage interns and I would only want this flagged to me if:

      1) op did not want to address the teaching moment themselves
      2) intern was noticibly drunk.

      Other than that a one off mis calculation like this not noteworthy for future employment opurtunities.

      1. RandomU...*

        Agreed. I think this site is skewed toward rule followers (nothing wrong with that) but I really don’t think that the vast majority of people are going to find this to be a big deal.

        If there weren’t rampant rumors of the intern’s drunken shenanigans or even whispers of it from others besides the intern. I don’t think this is even a blip on the radar.

        1. Ralph Wiggum*

          Sure, I don’t want to turn this into a big deal. That doesn’t change my preference to be informed as the manager.

          1. The manger is more empowered to have the aside conversation with the intern that many commenters are suggesting the OP have.
          2. The manager is presumably empowered to gather holistic data about the intern’s performance and behavior in a way the OP isn’t. The manager can’t see trends if information isn’t radiated because it’s regarded as too minor.

    2. Not Me*

      I could understand that if it happened again after OP talks to her. The whole point of interning is learning about the professional world, and this is a situation for her to learn from. Otherwise I think you’re expecting interns to come into the position as fully formed professionals.

    3. Ra94*

      Getting the intern in trouble with the manager over this seems cruel and excessive. If the intern had gotten very drunk or caused a scene or otherwise affected anyone else with her actions- sure. But all she needs is a gentle explanation about work norms, both regarding underage drinking and overimbibing at work events in general.

        1. Zillah*

          Yup. And like… what purpose does it serve? This is a mistake that I can see a lot of 19 year olds making and one that most wouldn’t repeat.

      1. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

        OP here, I definitely don’t think I’ll bring this to her manager’s attention. If this was one solitary instance I’d might let it go, but since Rachel does have a small tendency to overshare, I think this is a good opportunity for me to not only address that incident with the lovely script Allison gave, but also start a conversation about professional norms.

    4. Politico*

      Interns are usually being evaluated for full-time positions, so I’d care about any professionalism issues.

      Because having a beer in college is vewy vewy unprofessional. Sheesh. How big is the professional pool you hire from? Three?

      A friend of mine was a partner at a strategy consultancy before moving to industry; he had worked there for many years. He got “ad boarded” in college for drinking. The firm asked about it at his analyst interview when he was a senior. He replied, “we had a party.” That was the end of it, so far as he knew at the time. He later learned the interview saw his answer as a plus!

      1. tangerineRose*

        I think the problem was that the intern was drinking (and too much) at a work event.

        1. Ralph Wiggum*

          Yes, and a disregard for the law in a work context. Whether the law is inappropriate or silly is a separate issue (excepting civil disobedience, which isn’t applicable here).

  11. I have a liquor license and I know how to use it*

    So the worst case scenario? A law enforcement person observes the possible underage drinking and decides to investigate. Intern produces ID. Venue and the server are busted. In CA at least this means a $10,000 fine for the venue, and another $10,000 fine for the server, who will be fired. And the Intern is likely no longer an intern any more. Not very funny at all.

    1. TPS Cover Sheet*

      Ouch. Where I am frome venues lost their licence for 3 months so random ”closed for plumbing refurbishment”…

    2. RandomU...*

      But that’s on the venue. If they don’t want the consequences they should be carding. It’s not up to the random 20 year olds in the country to worry about that.

    3. MegPie*

      I know you didn’t make the law but a $10,000 fine for a server is absurd. That’s impossible for someone making server wages, especially one that is fired.

      1. Jasnah*

        Totally agree. I don’t know why this law allows individuals working for a company to be nailed for this. Are staff responsible for footing fines for health code violations? Can a bartender go to jail if someone drinks and drives? That seems overkill to me, especially since the underage drinker themselves isn’t fined at all.

        1. I have a liquor license and I know how to use it*

          I have learned over the years that “all liquor laws are absurd”. They consider a server putting a beer in front of an under-21 at an establishment, to be no different than someone going in a liquor store, buying a beer, and giving it to an under-21 waiting outside. In the first case they also fine the establishment, because they can. Actually, the establishment can choose to shut down for two weeks instead.
          At our place we card everyone. Be kind to your bartender/server.

  12. MuseumChick*

    You should 100% frame this as “this is behavior that can seriously damage how people see you, even if you were of age.” I might go with a, “Hey, I wanted to mention something to you. Remember when you said you got a little drunk at the event? I should have said this when you brought it up, but, getting drunk at a work even can really cause people to look at your differently, even when you are of age. I’ve seen a lot of people make this mistake. You because “the girl who got drunk” instead of “the woman who does great work”. More over, in a lot of jobs if the owner/ceo ever found out it could cause you a lot of trouble. Under age drinking could get this company in a lot of legal trouble and most owners are not going to want to deal with that.”

      1. MuseumChick*

        Right? I would also want to hit home that you *never* want to be the one to put you company in a legally questionable position.

    1. LKW*

      This! I think everyone has a “drunk co-worker” story (or 4) and I think it’s absolutely fine to tell the intern that one should never be the headliner in that story, one should always be the observer.

      1. MuseumChick*

        100% we all know *that* person who go smashed and made a fool of themselves.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        And if the person has some other track record to go by, then they might be able to shake off that reputation- but a young intern? Uhoh.

  13. BadWolf*

    I don’t think it’s too late to address because it’s easy to forget that Interns can be underage (or at least, it happens at my job — not that we’re serving alcohol, but we’ve planned happy hours and then had a “doh” moment when our intern is dutifully ordering a soda). Obviously you remember, OP, but it would be easy to think back on a conversation and be, “Wait, did Intern say they were drinking? I think Intern is not of drinking age. Oh shoot, and I just nodded along.”

  14. Alexander Graham Yell*

    Ooooh, this line was very well-timed for me: Interns are sort of a community responsibility

    One of ours is struggling to read the room and is genuinely trying to connect and show his interest in how things work, but stumbled into a difficult topic and continued to press while I was trying to be diplomatic. This gave me the push I needed to chat with him about it instead of just being frustrated he doesn’t know the unwritten rules yet. Thanks.

    1. LKW*

      I always tell my new analysts “If I say’ let’s take that offline’- that translates into ‘SHUT UP NOW’. So if you persist and continue to discuss the topic during the meeting, I will be angry.”

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Oh, that’s a good bit of translation, I’m definitely going to use that in the future.

        Unfortunately this particular conversation was in the lunch room, but it was after a comment between me and the country top about some post-acquisition client issues so intern followed up with a question about team integration issues. I get why he’s interested – it’s not something you see often, especially in an internship. But he’s so new to the work world that he doesn’t really get the emotional side of it because he doesn’t even know the full scope of the logistics, so how could he figure out just exactly how loaded his questions were? But we chatted a bit and he gets it now, or at least gets that “evasive answers = don’t keep pushing for details” which is really all I needed.

        (The rest of the newly-integrated team is coming to the office in 2 weeks, so I wanted to make sure it was handled before they got peppered with questions about things they may not want to discuss with anybody who isn’t in the same situation.)

        1. Close Bracket*

          “evasive answers = don’t keep pushing for details”

          Boy, that’s a lesson people of all ages and all job titles need to learn whether on the job or not!

        2. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

          Nice to know I’m not the only one dealing with potentially awkward intern conversations! My first job was at a university working with students, specifically helping them be more professional, so I thought I would have been better at this.

  15. TootsNYC*

    So much this!

    I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to give interns helpful advice when you see something they’re really getting wrong, even if you’re not their manager

    I mean, you’re not her manager, so your tone will be different. You are a more experienced colleague who wishes her well and is sharing information that you think will be helpful to her.

    She’s young–she probably doesn’t realize the legal risks she put people (and your company) in by doing this. And she’s probably too young to realize that “I got drunk, LOLZ” is not how all grownups act. And she may be inexperienced enough not to realize that non-boss colleagues are nonetheless an audience for her reputation.

    So explain it to her, since she doesn’t know.

    It’s not about scolding her–it’s about coaching.

  16. Booksalot*

    It seems like there’s seldom a middle ground with interns…you either get Tracy Flick or Kathryn Merteuil.

    I had one try to report a peer for “drinking on the job” because she had a bottle of kombucha at lunch.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      Was it some crazy home brewed kombucha? I had kombucha at work at my desk today.

      1. Clisby*

        Kombucha can have (or does have?) trace amounts of alcohol. It’s fermented, after all – but not the same as beer or wine.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Yeah, I’m aware it has alcohol, but we’re talking 0.5%-1% alcohol. Some of the homebrewed stuff could have more though. I tripped into a comment thread about kombucha during pregnancy where people didn’t seem to realize that orange juice also has some amount of alcohol in it, and dose makes the poison.

    2. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

      I don’t want everyone to have too bad an impression of Rachel because she’s actually a pretty good intern–very thoughtful, hardworking. I’m thinking this is (hopefully) more of a situation of not understanding professional norms.

  17. Antilles*

    One other thing of note here:
    “My coworker and I specifically picked a non-happy-hour event and decided not to serve booze in the food order because we had an underage team member. Which means she ordered it herself.”
    This in and of itself is kind of a faux pas. If there’s no alcohol served at the event and no mention of “it’s a cash bar, but feel free to get yourself something if you’d like”*, that’s very often a strong signal that the organizers would like to keep the event alcohol-free. Ordering one for yourself can be fine in some situations, but you definitely need to read the room and atmosphere…and if you do indulge, limit yourself to one or two.
    *I’m assuming there was no announcement like this, because OP would presumably have included that information in the letter as a ‘hey, did we screw up by saying this? was this partly our mistake?’. (answer: no, but maybe next time append ‘if you’re doing it legally and not driving, of course’).

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      This was what I was thinking too. I wonder if the rest of the staff was ordering from the bar or whatever, because if they were, and if others were a little tipsy, I can see this being more of a “when in Rome!” for the Intern. Not that it was a wise decision on her part, but it would make more sense.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Or if one of them got her a drink? I can see someone being like “I’ll treat the intern!” and not thinking about the fact that an intern might be under 21.

        1. valentine*

          Why not trust OP when she says Rachel must’ve ordered it herself? (Though I’d love to know why no colleague told her “Lol, no.”) I imagine the point of not having alcohol was to avoid excluding Rachel. Individual orders defeat that purpose.

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      OP didn’t mention whether there was a cash bar, and since they weren’t there, we don’t know whether several of-age people were ordering alcohol at the bar and paying for it themselves, or whether the intern was an outlier.

      I think that assuming this intern generally gets it, and that they’re not a wild child or typically doing stuff that is way outside workplace norms, and that the event was held in a venue where others may have also been ordering alcohol, I wouldn’t bring this up as a faux pas. I also think it depends how young and how underage the intern is. For example, I’d see a high school kid or rising college freshman taking it upon themselves to order alcohol and risk getting carded as a huge red flag to potential judgment problems/lack of understanding professional norms. A recent college grad who turns 21 in August, I’d raise an eyebrow but think it wasn’t such a huge faux pas.

      1. Politico*

        Fully agreed. If this were my intern, I couldn’t care less so long as he/she behaved at the event.

    3. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

      We did mention in the staff meeting that staff could purchase drinks if they wanted. And while I wasn’t there, I’d guess that at least 3 ppl would have ordered a glass of wine. We are a small relaxed team so that definitely could have played a role in the situation.

      1. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

        Rachel is a rising college senior by the way so close to the legal drinking age. Its really more her judgement that shocked me rather than her actually drinking

  18. millennial techie*


    maybe it’s just my industry…but what stuck out to me here is the OP saying they are a teetotaller. to me, that means they are an unreliable witness when it comes to drinking behaviour.

    If I say ‘I got a little bit drunk’ that means I was tipsy…which is 100% okay at work events (is it not at all workplaces? I’m 30 and it’s been fine at every place I work!), we would also definitely laugh about who got tipsy and who was actually drunk the next day/week back at work.

    Presumably this is a college student intern who’s like 20, not a 15 year old who’s drinking. does the OP actually think college students don’t drink?

    this just…seems like literally the smallest problem ever and not something to worry about!

    1. LKW*

      I think it was worded awkwardly but I think the OP was saying she is not a teetotaller . As in “When she told me she told me she calls her boyfriend Master I was shocked, not because I’ve got no kinks, but because that’s not work appropriate talk.”

    2. Paralegal Part Deux*

      Depends on what happens after the intern starts drinking. Presumably, if the intern was driving, it’d be a huge problems for the company if she had a wreck and injured or killed someone.

      1. TechWorker*

        This is a completely different point though – drink driving is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible no matter the age of the driver, whereas a 20 year old having one drink in a bar isn’t going to kill anyone. There’s a biggg line between the sort of person who thinks it’s ok to break underage drinking laws (most college students) and the sort of person who thinks drink driving is a-ok (hopefully not most college students!!!).

        1. Zillah*

          Yeah, I think that there’s a fair amount of conflating “a little drunk” with drunk driving and getting wasted in the comments, neither of which are implied by “a little drunk.”

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It depends on the event and the company culture. Nobody would show up around here if we didn’t have drinks. My boss toyed with the idea of limiting drinks to two per person and the attendance dropped drastically I’m told. He learned the lesson and the next time around, there was no limits. Nobody was getting wasted but just the “idea” of limiting it was too much to handle and a buzzkill.

      It’s also kind of like money. You don’t necessarily talk about it in the open like that in most circles. It rings of immaturity and awkwardness. It’s not a detail you add in when someone says “Hey so did anything happen at the gathering?” “Nope nothing to report but I did do some casual drinking, you know, cuz drinks.” Just like you don’t say “Hey nice pants!” and you respond with “Thanks! Yeah they were $97”

    4. Decima Dewey*

      OP wasn’t there. Which is why OP had to ask if anything happened at the event.

      And the intern volunteered the information that she got a little drunk. And that the venue didn’t card her.

    5. Captain S*

      Beyond the fact that the OP said they weren’t a teetotaler, it’s not that the OP thinks college students don’t drink, it’s about the amount and venue.
      It may be fine for you to get tipsy at your work events, but this would be frowned on for anyone of any age at mine and we certainly would not make jokes about who got drunk at a work event – much less an underage intern. That’s very much not standard behavior everywhere.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Getting tipsy at work isn’t OK where I work either. Although ordering a beer or wine with lunch is generally OK.

    6. Kitty*

      I agree this is a complete non-issue if a (presumably college-age) intern got “a little drunk”. The OP wasn’t even there! Why OP thinks it’s any of their business to get involved with is beyond me.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Because it’s illegal and they’re at work, not at school. It’s pretty shaky judgement to think that an employer wouldn’t care about that, and just casually reveal it.

        1. Blunt Bunny*

          I wouldn’t count this as work unless it was on site. Drinking at a team social event is not an issue unless maybe you were going back afterwards. But this sounds like a team away day.
          We have a no alcohol on site policy and it mean no alcohol on the premises.
          I don’t think OP needs to have any conversation with the intern as they know the law.
          The US has one of the most restrictive alcohol policies (bar religious countries) yet also very high incident of DUIs. I’m Europe most have drank atleast by the age of 16. It’s much safer to try alcohol when you are around you family and friends then trying it when you get to university.

      2. Moray*

        Plenty of things that are okay to do are not okay to do at work. Drinking while underage is one of those things; sharing the fact that one has been drinking while underage is another. And clarifying that for the intern would be doing her a favor.

    7. Antilles*

      If I say ‘I got a little bit drunk’ that means I was tipsy…which is 100% okay at work events (is it not at all workplaces? I’m 30 and it’s been fine at every place I work!)
      Nope. It’s absolutely not considered acceptable at all workplaces.
      First off, there are plenty of workplaces where it’d be completely verboten. Maybe because the management themselves doesn’t drink, maybe because of liability concerns, maybe just because of cost. Worth noting that the company specifically did not provide alcohol at the event, which itself often implies that the company expects you to either not drink or at least keep it in check.
      Secondly, even in workplaces where having a drink or two wouldn’t raise an issue, getting visibly drunk (or even tipsy) would still draw side-eye in a lot of places. And mentioning it afterwards wouldn’t come across well either. In my industry, every single conference has an open wine/beer bar…but you virtually never see someone get even visibly tipsy, because it’d be viewed as rather unprofessional.

    8. Samwise*

      Doesn’t matter. The intern is underage = the venue could get in trouble for serving someone underage and perhaps so could the OP’s employer since they were the host of the event.

      I drank a-plenty in college when I was underage. I did not do it on the job or at any work-related social event. Intern in this case does not seem to realize why it’s a bad idea, OP can clue them in.

    9. working in software*

      I’m going to assume you’re in tech, based on username, in which case, sure it’s sort of the norm in our industry. However, it also opens up possibilities like bros getting drunk enough at a hot work event held outside that they jumped into a public fountain and were belligerent in front of coworker’s children. Which…isn’t a great look imo and is a thing I’ve seen. Or there’s the litany of inappropriate comments that me and my female coworkers have endured at the hands of drunk tech bros. The longer I’m in tech, the less I think anything but a drink or two has a place in the industry because a lot of folks can’t seem to drink appropriately/like adults.

      1. millennial techie*

        yep, included it in the username to make it clear.

        I’m not a tech bro (or…a dude…) but I definitely drink a lot a work events and always have. I drink a little less now, but like, at the work social last week 2 people fell asleep on their trains home after getting drunk at the social and missed their stops — and those just became funny stories at work the next day.

        I’ve been in toxic tech cultures, with the bros that are out of control. I’ve been in others (like now) where it’s not that way. There isn’t exactly pressure to drink at socials, there’s always someone who’s not, but it’d be really weird to shame someone for talking about their drinking.

        1. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

          Like a few people have mentioned already, I’m less concerned with her drinking rather than her judgement surrounding her drinking. While it’s great that you work in a field that’s low key about this, mine is not. I’m a millennial too, just a few years younger than you and no job I’ve ever had would it be ok to get tipsy at a work event. just goes to show how different industry fields can be.

    10. Working Mom Having It All*

      I may be an over-correcter here, because I got way, way too drunk at a work event in my early 20s and have spent the intervening years carefully monitoring how much I drink at this sort of thing. But I don’t get drunk at work events. Tipsy, maaaaybbeeee, after reading the room and knowing that my ride home is secure? I would say that I’ll have a max of 2 drinks, and if I feel slightly tipsy I will not have any more alcohol even if I haven’t hit my self-imposed 2 drink max. And I won’t have more than 2 even if I’m not “feeling it” yet, because, like, decorum and all.

      I definitely wouldn’t get drunk at a non-alcohol related team building activity where there was a cash bar, but which wasn’t a “happy hour” per se.

      On the other hand, I remember being in college, and remember that it’s sort of the reverse of adult norms where alcohol is concerned. “I got drunk” = “cool person living life well” in college, whereas “I got drunk” = “kind of weird thing to admit to coworkers in this situation” in adult life. Nowadays I would definitely downplay the effects of alcohol, if any, whereas back then getting drunk was almost a badge of honor.

    11. Auddish*

      This was my reaction too. I guess I’ve only ever worked at places with laissez-faire attitudes towards drinking, but this doesn’t seem like a huge deal to me.

    12. Librarian of SHIELD*

      So, I’m in a profession that’s known for drinking at conference events. It’s essentially “what happens at national conference stays at national conference.” But that 1000% does not translate to work events at home. In my ~20 years in this profession (which is largely public sector), I have never attended an event sponsored by my own organization where alcohol was even an option. I could be fired for purchasing alcohol while wearing a shirt with my work logo on it, even if it’s my day off. A 20 year old employee or intern becoming noticeably tipsy at an event sponsored by the organization would be so very far from okay.

      1. Incantanto*

        What? Why on earth would you be fired for purchasing alcohol in your work shirt?

        1. Boomerang Girl*

          You would be considered to be representing the company if you are wearing a shirt with the logo

  19. Engineer Girl*

    I see a bigger issue here. It’s exploiting trust to do something that she knew was illegal.
    This definitely needs a discussion about professionalism. It also needs a discussion on not using the company for personal gain and putting the company at risk.
    As a intern, she may not see all the consequences of what she did.
    Explain to her that she violated trust. In the long term, that will make it hard for management to trust her for business trips, important clients, etc.
    She gets this one for free because she’s young. Doing it again could affect her working relationships.

    1. TechWorker*

      I soooort of get where you’re coming from but it does read as pretty dramatic. Yes, she should have thought it through and not ordered alcohol at a work event – but I’m not really sure how that equates to ‘using the company for personal gain’? I imagine she thought the risk was all on her – potentially incorrectly (though in practice not, the bar isn’t about to go after the company with legal action and ‘intern bought her own drink at a bar’ isn’t exactly a scandalous news story). She did something stupid that it’s worth pointing out (on work socials you’re on work time and have a responsibility towards the company) rather than something that’s a huge violation of trust.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Or perhaps, she saw everyone else ordering drinks and felt pressured to participate herself.

        1. LKW*

          This is what I was thinking, the table could have ordered a bottle of wine or a pitcher of beer and she had a drink or two to not feel like a little kid. Let’s keep this in relative context and impact, it’s illegal yes, but to me this smacks of jaywalking and not manufacturing meth.

          That said, drunk driving, totally not acceptable ever. I would more severely judge a person for driving while drunk or even tipsy than having an underage drink.

          1. TechWorker*


            I don’t really understand the comments along the lines of ‘but what if she then drove home?!’ – yeah that would be awful. It would be equally awful and dangerous if someone not underage had a drink and then drove home, it’s just not in the same ballpark as underage drinking (nor does it follow that underage drinking => fine with breaking other laws and drink driving)

          2. TPS Cover Sheet*

            And this happens in USA where bars have parking lots as there is no public transpoert. Ehh… logic

        2. Engineer Girl*

          She still has an obligation to self police her behavior. That’s what professionalism is all about! You do the right thing.

          1. Zillah*

            Sure, that’s what professionalism is all about (“do the right thing” is a different story that I don’t think belongs in this conversation) – but most of us aren’t born knowing exactly what professionalism looks like, especially since it varies significantly depending on the workplace and the field.

            Drinking while an adult but under the age of 21 is really, really, really normal in the United States. The vast majority of people I know have done it. People who never did it are very much in the minority. She did it in the wrong setting and talked about it in a problematic way, and that absolutely deserves correcting, but turning this into a “you used the company for personal gain” is a lecture that exists to make the lecturer feel morally superior, not to help the intern learn about professionalism.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              We are talking about work. We are talking about using a work event to gain access to the alcohol

              It’s about violating trust.

              1. Ella*

                I don’t think the intern conspired to get hired by this company on the off chance they’d have an event where she could buy alcohol without being carded. (I mean… there are much easier ways for underage interns to access alcohol if they want it that badly.) She acted unprofessionally by drinking at the event and then mentioning it at work later, but unless we’re missing some key details about alcohol-induced bad behavior, it’s not a moral failing or a betrayal of the company to have done so.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  Oh come off of it. Of course she didn’t conspire to get hired to get drunk.
                  She did, however, exploit a vulnerability to gain illegal access to alcohol. The employer trusted her to behave well and she broke the law.

  20. Glitsy Gus*

    OP doesn’t really go into how these events usually go down when there isn’t an underage person there, so it does make me wonder if alcohol is usually a part of these things. The main reason I ask is because of the rest of the staff were ordering drinks from the bar (or whatever the situation was) and getting a little tipsy themselves then I can see how it might have felt like a bit more of a grey area for the intern.

    I would still say something to Intern about it probably not being the best idea to order drinks at work when you’re underage because it can reflect poorly on her in various ways, but I do think the way your office generally looks at drinking at events is a factor as well. I’ve worked for offices where people regularly get obliterated at these kinds of things and no one cares as long as you can keep it together enough not to insult the CEO or something, so I do think taking your office culture into account should matter here. If half the folks there were in the same state then you might want to relax about it a bit, just let her know yeah, it’s a drag when you’re underage, but it’s for the best to play it safe as a general rule.

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      I commented this upthread as well, but I was wondering if the situation was that Rachel was seeking out a drink for herself, or if someone else bought her the drink. People can be seriously weird about people refusing a drink, and I 100% could see someone pressuring her to accept it, and Rachel not having the life experience to stick to a no, and feeling like in the power dynamics of that that she couldn’t say no.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Or just Rachel being offered a drink by someone who was also having one, and not seeing anything terribly amiss about it. Especially if Rachel is almost 21 and frequently accepts drinks that were bought for her under similar circumstances. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who were serious sticklers about under age drinking and wouldn’t allow alcohol to pass their lips until they turned 21. Most people tend to think it’s normal for people 18-20 to drink , and that this is only technically illegal in the way that speeding or ripping the tags off your mattress are illegal. I think engaging in drinking at a work function when you’re underage oversteps those sort of grey area acknowledged boundaries, but there are a lot of situations where the waters could have been muddied.

        1. TPS Cover Sheet*

          Well, in Kansas you can get married at 12 and have 10 kids before you can have a beer.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          Yeah, if an adult coworker bought Rachel a drink or intentionally-or-not pressured her to have one, that’s very different than Rachel herself ordering a drink without any influence from the surrounding people.

          1. tangerineRose*

            ” Intern Rachel says that I didn’t miss anything, just her getting a little drunk … (and wait for it) … because they didn’t card her!?” Sounds like she got the drink(s) at the bar – most people wouldn’t expect a co-worker to card them.

      2. Anne*

        I doubt anyone had to pressure her into drinking – sounds like she bought the alcohol herself, didn’t get carded, and felt like a daring rebel for getting away with it. Forbidden fruit and all that. OP should set her straight wrt professional norms, but tbh I don’t see anything terrible or unexpected about the intern’s behaviour. A college kid sneaked a drink, news at eleven.

    2. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

      OP here. While happy hours are the norm for this type of event, I would say it’s rare for any one of use to have more than 3 drinks (they aren’t that long, 2 hours on the long end). Our office culture is pretty friendly and casual but values being professional and put together (if that makes sense).

      Haf Caf latte– that’s definitely a good point, though I don’t think anyone would have pressured her to accept it. The only person who would’ve potentially bought a round for everyone would have definitely known Rachel’s age because they are involved in hiring processes

  21. E*

    Intern joked about breaking the law knowingly at a company outing. That does not indicate responsibility on her part at all, and she needs to be told that what she did is not ok.

    1. neeko*

      I mean, she didn’t rob a bank. I think framing it like “you broke the law” would come off out of touch because it’s really not uncommon for college students to drink. Framing it as what is and isn’t appropriate in the work place will be something I bet she’ll actually listen to.

      1. RandomU...*

        Exactly. I mean I get it, it’s legally not allowed. But some of the comments here wow…

      2. wittyrepartee*

        I think I’d be like: “meh, don’t do that. Play it safe, someone might care.”

      3. WellRed*

        Plus 1. This behavior is not uncommon and it’s not done with malice aforethought. It’s more akin to a kid getting away with something.

      4. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yeah, same here. The fact that it’s illegal is relevant in that it could potentially get the company or venue in trouble, but I would frame it as a liability issue, not a moral one.

  22. Holly*

    This would not strike me as completely strange if it was an open bar event for the company that underage interns were present for – but it’s reaaaally strange if no one else was drinking? Maybe the intern needs a talk about knowing-your-work-event as well

    1. TechWorker*

      OP gave no indication no-one else was or wasn’t drinking, just that drinks weren’t on the company tab.

      1. Holly*

        Got it, I read it as there weren’t drinks featured in the event so the intern went out of their way to order something.

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      My read was that there was a cash bar on the premises, and that either it was openly available to of-age people who wanted to order it on their own dime, or that it’s a public venue that also sells alcohol to the general public, and people were ordering alcohol because there’s really nothing in place to prevent of-age adults from not ordering alcohol if they want it.

      The problem was that the intern thought it was a good idea to take advantage of the situation (a lot of bartenders are not going to card if they see a bunch of corporate suits clearly there for a team building event), not — as far as we’ve been told — went widely out of bounds of workplace norms. Though if she did, then she should also be told about that. Not to mention that I’ve seen grown ass adults who’ve been in the workplace for years do this (order a cocktail when nobody else did and the company wasn’t paying for alcohol), to no real ill effect aside from eyerolling by the admin doing the expense reports.

    1. Essess*

      An intern deliberately breaking the law at a company event, then laughing about it is a big deal for most people.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Getting a little drunk at a work event is usually NOT a good idea. I guess it depends on your workplace, but it just sounds like a good way to do/say things that would be very embarrassing at work the next day.

          1. Zillah*

            I didn’t say it was a good idea, though – I’m questioning the assertion that most people would see this as a big deal, given that it doesn’t seem like the intern did anything particularly embarrassing. Plenty of things are not good ideas without being big deals.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              At my workplace, it would be very Not Done, but in a “oh dear, we need to have a talk about how things work here before you embarrass yourself” kind of way, not “how DARE you DRINK at WORK?!”. There are plenty of workplaces where getting tipsy is not at all unusual.

            2. Essess*

              At my company, it is in the policies that if you know of an illegal action on company time and YOU do not report it, you will be fired.

            3. Essess*

              This was not an ‘oops, I ordered a drink but didn’t realize it had alcohol” mistake… this was a “I deliberately did something that I knew was illegal at work but I didn’t get caught so now I’m bragging about it” which is serious.

              1. Zillah*

                I’m not asking about your company. I’m asking for you to back up the statement that most people either don’t use nuance in determining how seriously to take various illegal activities or that an underage adult having a couple drinks would ping the “big deal” side of the spectrum.

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      I think it becomes OP’s business when the intern openly tells her about it, but Allison’s advice is right that the thing to do here is to gently advise her about workplace norms where drinking is concerned. I agree that it is probably not a very big deal, though, and blowing it out of proportion would probably have the opposite of the intended effect.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If you saw it out of the corner of your eye that she was being served. I’d agree with you there.

      But she openly bragged about it, she just needs to be told that she shouldn’t be doing that in the end.

    4. TPS Cover Sheet*

      No, there is a difference between
      – if it happened and nobody but you noticed and everyone is quiet…
      – if it happened and nobody noticed and she is flaunting it…

      Very big difference

  23. Rose's angel*

    What are the legal consequences to the company if she had gotten hurt as a result of her having a drink?

    1. TechWorker*

      Is there any reason they’d be any different to if a 21 year old got hurt after having a drink? The company didn’t sell her the drink, give it to her or own the premises so I’m not sure why they’d have a legal responsibility here.

      1. Antilles*

        There’s a lot of case law where parents were held liable/charged for allowing a party to go on at their house where underage drinking occurred, so there is plenty of precedent for holding the ‘adults’ liable for underage drinking. As you said, the company doesn’t own the premises and didn’t provide the alcohol, so it’s highly unlikely it’d fall back on the company (though the venue would certainly have some issues)…but the chances aren’t entirely zero.
        That said, from a PR standpoint, if something went really seriously wrong to the extent it made social media/news/whatever, it’s definitely getting portrayed as “Teapot Co allows underage intern to drink and drive”.

        1. RandomU...*

          Eh.. I think that would be a stretch for being held criminally liable… I mean no more than they would for a legal drinker. But I was under the impression the company did not provide drinks.

          I think parents allowing drinking in a private home is a lot different than a company hosting a team event at a place that has a bar.

      2. Rose's angel*

        I was wondering only because it was a work event at a place where alcohol was present. Even though it qasnt sanctiones by her empkoyer I was curious if there was any liability.

    2. Louisa*

      This. I don’t know much about the legalities around this, but if you have a minor in the workplace, is there an element of additional care that the workplace is supposed to be taking? I know some establishments allow kids over 13 to have an alcoholic beverage if an accompanying adult okays it, but in a workplace?? Even if you’re legally ok on the licensing front, you might not be in terms of obligation to the kid and their parents to provide a safe learning environment for a child.

        1. Louisa*

          Sorry, you’re right, I just realised this is probably from America and remembered the drinking age in the States is a lot higher. I was picturing a 15/16 year old high school student on a work experience placement or something.

        2. Paralegal Part Deux*

          The intern is a minor until she reaches the age of majority in whatever state they live in. Where I live, that’s 21.

          1. Susana*

            We don’t really have an age of majority, since you can be (theoretically) drafted at 18 and married much younger.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Out of curiosity- are you from outside the US? I’m sure there’s restaurants that do that here (probably super high end), but I’ve never seen it?

        1. Louisa*

          Yes, I just realised I’m probably way off due to cultural and legal differences, so I’d disregard the previous comment. I’m commenting tired and didn’t think about country of origin of the LW.

    3. Batgirl*

      I think it’s more reputational; like the venue could have been very sniffy about future bookings if they’d realised and without knowing all the details ‘we took one of your students to a bar!’ would probably damage the relationship with the university.

      More than anything though the intern needs to be told kindly that bragging about not being carded is for a very particular audience and not something for work in particular.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There’s always liability issues about having work events because it’s still usually under workers comp.

      And the issue here is that she’s breaking the law. When you file an insurance claim and you are found to be breaking the law, there are often repercussions for that. The first one is that the insurance isn’t liable for the damages. So the damages would fall on the employer.

      They would also be going after the venue/bartender in that case to recoup costs usually.

      But they’d have to prove it and often they don’t do a drug/alcohol test in enough time after the incident. So they can’t prove that theyr’e intoxicated. So there’s that.

      It’s pretty minimum in the exposure but yeah, that’s one reason why some companies have a strict no drinking at events policy as well. just in case.

  24. MOAS*

    Funny story about interns and drinking. We once had a pre tax season party for everyone in the office. Interns were the worst offenders. Out of control, throwing up in the bathroom and everywhere. One threw up on a staff member (heard he enjoyed it though). Another one threw up right by my boss’s desk. The stain is still there 2.5 years later. A lot of them were not yet 21.

    Since then, we don’t hire anyone under 21 and don’t hold any parties on site.

    1. Left Intentionally Blank*

      “One threw up on a staff member (heard he enjoyed it though).”

      There is a LOT to unpack here

      1. MOAS*

        Well not enjoyed enjoyed but I heard he wasn’t exactly upset or grossed out. There were pictures of her throwing up on his face.

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I think that piece of baggage is better left all packed up, personally…

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oh dear. I thought that we had to make a new rule that was “no drinking during SET UP of our annual event” was bad enough, nobody got puked on though.

      Since that’s how many people didn’t get the “memo” that “sure you can bring beers with you” meant so that we could drink after the event, during tear-down. Nope, just busted them out right there for set-up.

      Nobody was under aged though, it was just a bunch of should-know-betters-but-they-never-will.

      1. MOAS*

        Lol. Fun times. Our new rules became no parties in the office.

        At one work party, we were strictly limited to 1 beer, wine or champagne. I wanted something else and discreetly asked the waiter for one and clearly stated I’d pay separately for it….well ppl saw me ordering, they ended up ordering, including c-suite and when I wetn to pay for my drink they said it was taken care of.

        ….I have quite a few stories..

        1. MOAS*

          oh and FTR I wasn’t sloppy drunk or anything. neither was anyone else. and i didn’t drive or go back to work…

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Oh I totally dig it. I have only seen a couple times where someone was truly out of hand and then it was a “that guy is a problem.” and thankfully they didn’t last long for the fact that it wasn’t the only thing they made poor decisions about!

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’ve always tended to have bosses who didn’t care and were roughnecks themselves, either still or in their heydays. So it works out a lot better in the end.

          But then again one of my bosses also owned a commercial property that was rented out…and one of the tenants would pay in all cash. Sweaty. Reeking of the pot 20s. Before they legalized weed. It was so bad I had to air out the entire office and turn the fan on in the middle of the winter time. Still didn’t phase the codger.

    3. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

      I really appreciate this story, it makes me feel like this is a breadcrumb sized issue compared to that!

  25. Left Intentionally Blank*

    “One threw up on a staff member (heard he enjoyed it though).”

    There is a LOT to unpack here

  26. Mama Bear*

    I think Alison’s advice is good. Interns are interns to learn, and that should be more than just how to paint a teapot. Giving her a head’s up about expected behaviors of all types is in her best interest long-term. She can determine later if the company she works for allows this or not. If I were the OP, I’d also not return to that venue so long as there were any underage interns in the group. Remove the temptation.

  27. StaceyIzMe*

    Your intern breached a professional boundary but you’re not her supervisor. Address it just as you would for anyone else who’d violated a professional norm. In this case, it didn’t impact you and you don’t have the standing to comment on her choices unless they impact the work that she does. You weren’t there. Was she bragging? Was she really drunk? It’s impossible to tell. If it’s worth addressing, it’s worth addressing with her through the management process, especially because her report was in confidence, after the fact and secondhand. I think that the most that you can do is to factor her poor judgement into your view of her as a professional, and maybe file it away in case it comes up again (in which case you address it directly, in the moment and unequivocally). The caveat? If your view is that her actions exposed the company to the potential for some type of liability (was she driving? did she imbibe during the workday?)- then you’d address it from that perspective, through her boss. Otherwise, the fact that some time has gone by and that you’re not her manager might bring this up to the level of “monitor for possible repetition, no action required, currently”.

  28. LilyP*

    Funny! This reminds me of giggling with one of my intern team leads about how the networking event gave us wine without carding us. That was during my college internship, when I was still just-barely-underage and our lead was only a couple years older. (For the record I had one glass, was not intoxicated, and did not drive home). You should give her a heads up that being *drunk* at a work event or bragging about getting drunk at a work event is not super professional, and maybe even say that it doesn’t reflect well on her to do or talk about stuff that’s technically illegal at work. But I think people are getting a little carried away about the underage thing haha. There are plenty of 20 year olds who can have a glass of wine and be reasonable and plenty of 21 year olds who can’t!

    1. Ella*

      Right? And it’s not something everyone will instantly realize is unprofessional. I had college professors give me wine at events when I was technically underage, and one of them was technically my boss, as I was TAing a class for him. I can definitely imagine a new-to-the-workforce younger me thinking it was just fine to have a glass of wine with my over-age coworkers, or talking about drinking at work later and not realizing it comes of as unprofessional. This is a moment to gently guide her towards better professional norms, not act like she was five seconds from driving drunk or ruining the company’s reputation or something.

  29. Jesshereforthecomments*

    I agree with everyone saying OP should talk to her about professional norms and “reading the room”. I think in general, if you can’t or don’t read the room, you don’t do as well socially and then we read into that as far as what a person’s professional capacity is.

    Also, I just wanted to add that this was a missed opportunity for OP to call her April (Ludgate) rather than Rachel. ;)

    1. LunaLena*

      I completely agree with your first paragraph. I thought the most important bit of advice was “If you’re ever unsure, it’s smart to watch what others are doing until you learn the norms of a company around this kind of thing.”

      I remember once, when I worked at a small company, the owner decided to treat everyone to lunch at a nice-ish restaurant. Most people waited to see what the owner ordered, then ordered something around the same price range or lower. One person, however, ordered the steak, which was by far the most expensive thing on the menu. When it arrived, you can bet the owner noticed who got it.

      I mean, technically such things shouldn’t matter, and it’s not like the person who ordered the steak did anything illegal. But it probably didn’t exactly endear them to the owner either.

    2. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

      She is waaay to cheerful and loud to be an April! Though I am wishing I picked a better name. Rachel just happened to be the first thing I thought of

    1. Cheeseboard*

      This must have been some office! Giving wine to children for their birthday for months and apparently statutory rape to boot. Did no one there have any sense?

  30. nnn*

    I appreciate the nuance of Alison’s answer here, specifically stating that the issue is employer liability, and acknowledging that in many contexts underage drinking isn’t a big deal.

    Thinking back to when I was an underage drinker, I wouldn’t have found the messaging of “Don’t drink because you’re underage” or “Don’t drink because it’s bad” persuasive. Also, part of why I enjoyed drinking is because it’s adult, so I would have seen being told not to drink as not being treated like an adult.

    But the messaging of “I know this is normal in the rest of your life, but here’s why this specific employment context is different” would have given me new information (underage me didn’t know about employer liability), and I would have seen it as being treated like an adult – respecting the fact that the adult activity of drinking is normal for me, and enlisting my aid in the adult endeavour of protecting the employer from undue liability that results from stupid arbitrary drinking age laws.

    1. Zillah*

      Ditto. It’s worth acknowledging, too, that neither “Don’t drink because you’re underage” nor “Don’t drink because it’s bad” are the majority opinion in many settings, and presenting them as though they’re fact can make you look out-of-touch and risks losing the core lesson about professionalism and legal liability.

      It’s great to correct an intern when they make a professional misstep, which drinking underage at a company event is – it’s inappropriate to use a professional misstep as an excuse to try to lecture an intern into following your personal moral beliefs.

  31. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I always find it amazing that, in the US, you can drive a car at 16, join the military and die in combat at 18, and drink alcohol at 21.

    Strange priorities, there!

    In Germany you can buy fermented beverages (beer, wine, hard cider, etc.) at age 16, and everything else alcoholic at 18. This changed from being able to buy all alcohol at 16 the year I turned 18.

    As a result at every rehearsal retreats with the youth orchestra I was in the older yet not of age members would waylay me and ask me to go shopping with them. I never said no and told them to find me when they were ready. Somehow they never could find me…

    And there is a sure fire way to spot US exchange students in Germany:

    They all have a bottle of beer glued to their hand.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s because of sin taxes and puritanism in the end. It’s not about health or wellness, even though they will spin it that way to stuff their belief system on you some more. They’re now raising the smoking age as well, so just wait until these interns are in an area with a 21 age limit and get caught with their secret vape pen, oh no.

      I get carded for Nyquil cold medicine now, that’s fun times!

  32. Nessun*

    I wish someone would explain to our students AND new hires about only having 1 or 2 drinks at a work event. I’ve got no place to tell them anything, but the amount of liquor they consume is staggering, as is the lack of thought or care that goes into their behavior before and after they drink all the drinks.

    1. Close Bracket*

      You don’t have the standing to insist that they change their behavior, but as a peer who has more time at the company, you have the standing to inform them of behavioral norms.

  33. GreyjoyGardens*

    As a peer, you don’t really have standing to *tell* Rachel not to drink at work events, and I think it would be counterproductive to sound like a scoldy Tipper Gore or Nancy Reagan and say “Tsk, tsk! You’re underage and you Broke The Law! Just Say No!”

    Rather, you might want to tell her that, in the working world, getting sloshed at an office function is looked upon as unprofessional. Have her read some Ask A Manager archives about what can happen when someone has a few too many at an office party or staff event. I doubt Rachel would want to start her working life off on the kind of wrong foot that could happen if she got drunk and (kissed the boss, threw up in a potted plant, cursed out a coworker, etc. etc.).

  34. tangerineRose*

    “Intern Rachel says that I didn’t miss anything, just her getting a little drunk … (and wait for it) … because they didn’t card her!?” That really bugs me, that the intern seems to think it’s the servers’ fault because they allowed it.

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      I’m not sure that the intern thought about it all that much. And it IS the server’s responsibility, legally. Ethically, it’s unreasonable, to me, that people who are old enough to sign a legal contract or serve in the military or vote for the country’s leaders aren’t considered old enough to order wine. Pragmatically, I can see the benefit of elevating the age of access to alcohol. From a systems view, however, it’s pretty far out of kilter with the other responsibilities that come to young adults at 18. Finding humor in having gotten away with something isn’t particularly mature, but it isn’t indicative of a deep character flaw, either.

      The other thing about the divergence between “can sign contracts” and “can’t drink alcohol” that drives me a bit bonkers is that college kids are hampered by their parents’ financials when applying for financial aid. How many children of divorce or young people coping with estrangement from a parent are nonetheless forced to contend with these requirements when they seek to further their education? How is it relevant to this discussion? Well, society should treat young adults as actual adults who are entitled to make their own decisions about personal, professional and educational lives. (And a report of a lapse in judgement shouldn’t be treated differently merely because the person involved was an intern, when it would be more helpful and beneficial to treat the matter as one would with any other employee of a similar demographic, since “under 21” connotes “can’t legally drink” and no more. It’s not like a magic hormonal bath occurs on one’s twenty-first birthday that augments one’s emotional intelligence.

  35. Polymer Phil*

    If you would correct anyone who refers to the intern as a 20-year-old girl instead of a 20-year-old woman, cut out the hypocrisy.

  36. nodramalama*

    I’m not sure I’d say the second part about drinking at work events in general. To me that part comes across as condescending, especially as OP wasn’t there to witness her drinking or any of the behaviour. It’s entirely possible if she was the drinking age (i assume 21 here?) she would only have mentioned it because she sees OP closer to a peer and would not have appeared drunk or tipsy at the event. I’d stick with the liability because its less likely to come across like a lecture

  37. Seriously*

    This was a non-work event per the OP: “… a voluntary team outing…”. If the the event was actually an official work event, then I definitely agree with the advice. If the event was a truly volunteer event, then the advice needs to be phrased differently. This is an opportunity to coach the intern before they start attending official work events where the atmosphere is totally different.

    1. Not Rebee*

      Whether or not it’s an official (mandatory) work event or a (voluntary) after hours event with peers, the fact of the matter is that you’re still with work people and in this case you’re still breaking the law by drinking out in public as an underage person. This does not sound like it was a house party environment where casual underage drinking might slide. This was a place with a bartender and a liquor license that is supposed to be checking ID and Intern has a responsibility to follow the law in a location like this, especially when out with work friends. Especially if it’s possible that managers might be there.

      1. Seriously*

        The context does matter because it changes the role of the OP. If it was a sanctioned work event, then the intern is putting her employer at risk, and she shouldn’t definitely be coached on her behaviour.

        If this was a gathering that was optional and it was a social activity, then it becomes policing the interns behaviour because the OP has a strong opinion on the interns behaviour.

        We don’t actually know how the intern obtained her drinks. We don’t actually know how drunk the intern was. The tone of the letter reads to me that the OP disapproves of the interns behaviour and is trying to find a reason to throw her weight around. We don’t know enough details – what if the intern was handed a glass of wine by a coworker who assumed she was of age, and the intern didn’t want to decline thinking it was a faux paus? Should the intern really take the blame? The OPs suggested solutions are unreasonable for such a minor thing.

        1. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

          OP here, I just wanted to say I definitely don’t want “to throw my weight around.” I don’t think drinking is bad, I don’t think getting tipsy is bad. I don’t think 21 is a reasonable drinking age. I do think it’s not the smartest idea to get tipsy with your co-workers that you’ve only known for a few weeks. Because she specifically mentioned the waitress not carding, I don’t think a coworker handed her a drink. Yes, wasn’t there so I could be missing something but she still thought it seemed like a funny story to tell.

          Like I said in my original letter, I think talking to her manager is going to far. I think Rachel is a great intern! (Also mentioned). I don’t want her to be hindered in the future from a situation like this happening again.

          1. Seriously*

            “I don’t think 21 is a reasonable drinking age”. Before you talk to the intern, please examine your personal feelings regarding alcohol consumption because your advice may not come out as you want it to.

            I have been in many group situations where the server scans the group and doesn’t card the whole group where underage people have been included – I’m in Canada, and in my province, the drinking age is 19 (it’s 18 in some). I feel like you keep going back to find blame with the intern for a reason you may not be consciously realizing. Would you care as much if she turned 21 the weekend after the gathering? We’re both making assumptions on actions and behaviours – me based on your responses, you from the intern’s story and office chatter assuming, of course.

            Basically, if this becomes a pattern, it’s definitely reasonable to say something to the intern and her manager. She is so new it’s impossible to know if this is really a concern. If this was a one time thing, chalk it up to nerves to being new to the company and maybe it was her first work outing and she didn’t know what to do and mimicked others.

            From your larger response below, I really don’t think this is your place to talk to her about upcoming events. Only address her comments to you about the gathering because that is the only thing you have facts on, you didn’t witness anything else. Talk to your manager about your concerns and ask them to talk to her manager for the next event, it’s not up to you to talk to her about it.

            1. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

              Again, the drinking is not the issue rather the judgement around it. Specifically sharing it later as a funny story. I like our intern and it would be terrible for her to be held back for some stupid reason like that, so I think saying “hey, it’s not a great idea to get tipsy at work related events in this industry” isn’t totally unwarranted. I don’t think that’s my “personal feelings related to alcohol consumption” getting in the way of my judgment, but maybe I’m missing something in what you’re saying. The only “feelings” I have towards alcohol are limit intake in professional settings and never drink and drive— I think those are probably widely shared “feelings.” I’m a bit confused by you suggesting I should wait to see if it becomes a pattern before I say something. Isn’t part of giving advice to a intern establishing what are good and bad professional norms?

  38. Candid Candidate*

    I’d also add that any workplace where getting drunk at a work event is a social norm, even when you’re legally of-age, is probably not the best workplace to be. Two or three drinks isn’t a big deal, but if it’s a regular thing that coworkers are getting sloshed together at a work event, personal and professional boundaries will inevitably be crossed. I learned pretty quickly that I need to stay more sober than my male peers, who tend to get to leap right past respectful behavior norms once they’ve had a few drinks.

  39. Not Rebee*

    This makes me very curious to know how venues hosting group functions cope with serving alcohol. My experience has been that if it’s an event hosted at a restaurant where everyone sits down and orders individually, people may get carded whereas banquet style open bar type events seem to result in no one getting carded. For example, we had our holiday party this year at a local hotel and looking back one of the many things that went wrong on the alcohol side is that no one got carded (also, employees charged ridiculous amounts to the company’s card because our HR chick never actually gave the hotel staff a dollar amount limit like she was supposed to). I don’t think we have anyone under 21 at the company, but that doesn’t release the hotel from any liability that might arise from them not having checked.

  40. The Cool Aunt Coworker (OP)*

    Hey all! I’m the OP and just wanted to say thanks so much for the comments and sorry for my delay in getting to them, Mondays are my busiest days and I wanted to read through all your comments.

    As some people have guessed, I’m on the younger side (late 20s), which Rachel knew because she actually asked me how old I was at the beginning of the conversation (I told her I don’t mind answering but probably not a good thing to ask coworkers in general). I think that combined with me being in a creative position, she might have seen me as a “cool aunt” type co-worker.

    For those questioning my other coworkers not noticing, my guess is that they don’t know her age, Rachel had literally just started the week prior. She definitely comes off as older, and besides the occasional tendency to overshare, she’s pretty professional for an intern. The only reason I knew is because I asked my manager (who was not at the event) Rachel’s age when we were planning the event, because I didn’t think it wouldnt be smart (or fair, if that makes sense) to serve alcohol with an underage staff member, but we told other staff that the venue did have a bar if they wanted to purchase something.

    I’ve decided I’m definitely going to talk to Rachel tomorrow as we have an out of town staff retreat coming up next week where alcohol could possibly be provided at dinner. I will let everyone know how it goes!

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