Editorial – A Game of Chance

Appearances can be deceiving, especially when it comes to age. It seems to be the one thing we’d all like to change, and sometimes take drastic steps to do so.

Whether we’re changing our hair, our clothes, our faces, or even the way we act, there’s no shortage of ways to turn back the clock (or push it ahead a few years, depending on whether You’re 16 or 60).

Short of having proof of someone’s biological age, the waters of how-old-do-you-think-I-am can be muddy, which makes it all the more ridiculous that a Rogers Centre employee was recently fired for getting it wrong?and that the company that fired him uses a serving-age guessing game to terminate staff.

Wayne McMahon, 61, was a Rogers Centre server, a popular fixture in the stadium’s 100 level for nearly seven seasons, attracting customers with his signature ?Ice, cooooooold, beeeeeer? call.

As the CBC reports, McMahon was recently fired for serving beer to one of those customers. Not because the man was under the legal drinking age (he was 22, a full three years in the clear), but because McMahon didn’t think the customer appeared to be under 30.

The 22-year-old was a mystery shopper (a person used to measure service) hired by Aramark, the American company that operates concessions at the Rogers Centre. Company policy requires any customer who appears to be under 30 to present identification to staff, and That’s where McMahon went wrong.

But did the company go too far in firing an employee based on a highly subjective measurement?especially when that employee has already passed six previous secret-shopper tests? Yes.

First of all, how does the company set the standard for employee perceptions? Looked at by a teenager, a 25-year-old man can appear physically mature. Put that same man in front of someone in their forties or fifties, and you’ll probably get a different opinion?by its very nature, nothing but a subjective guess about a stranger’s appearance.

Second, context can play a large part in guessing someone’s age. Does the company monitor its mystery shoppers? methods? Put that 22-year-old shopper in casual clothes, a ball cap, and have him act carefree and he may appear younger than he is. But if he tends to wear conservative clothes and be someone with a serious demeanour, he may easily pass for 30.

It’s understandable that Aramark and other hospitality servers need to be vigilant about alcohol and minors. Besides their social obligation, fines are steep. Under the Liquor Licence Act, anyone convicted of supplying alcohol to a minor faces a fine of up to $200,000 and a year in jail, while incorporated licensed establishments can be fined up to $500,000 for the same offence.

And with so much at stake?for both employees and employer?it seems that decisions should be based on more than just guessing games.