Business owners, employers talk pot and policy in the workplace

Employers from the Charlottetown business community came together Wednesday to talk about pot — and what it could mean for businesses once it's legal.

The event was part of an effort by the chamber of commerce to educate members about impacts of legal marijuana

Three experts discussed how businesses can prepare for the legalization of marijuana. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Employers from the Charlottetown business community came together Wednesday to talk about pot — and what it could mean for businesses once it's legal.

A panel of experts told business owners they had to educate themselves about cannabis laws now,  before legal marijuana makes it's way into the workplace. That includes consulting with legal professionals and physicians to establish policies that protect employees and employers and follow the law.

"You can't deal with a problem if you don't understand it so you need education about it," said Karen Campbell, a partner at Cox & Palmer who sat on the panel.

"You need it, your employees need it, your managers need it. You should spend some time and potentially some money making sure that that occurs and there's lots of stuff going on right now. It's very timely to get educated." 

Policy is key

Panellists encouraged business owners to take the time now to reevaluate policies concerning scent and smoke-free work spaces as well as drug and alcohol use.

"You need policies and you need good policies," Campbell said. "If you have them you need to go back and ensure that they're updated to deal with the issue of cannabis use in the workplace. 

"You have to be sure you amend them now to make sure you're capturing cannabis as part of what's prohibited." 

Lawyer Karen Campbell, right, said businesses should take the time to reevaluate policies. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)
Campbell said if an employer is unsure of how to create policy surrounding cannabis use they should reach out to someone who practices in the area or is a lawyer that can help navigate the legislation.

"The money that you spend upfront to make sure you do it right will be paid back in spades in the back end," she added. 

Accommodations for medical use

One of the big questions business owners asked was how to determine between medical and recreational cannabis use and how to manage both within the workplace. 

There's a certain protocol you can follow if you suspect someone is under the influence.- Detry Carragher, management consultant 

According to the panel, recreational use on the job should be treated the same way as alcohol.

Those employees using cannabis under a prescription — for medicinal purposes — may have to disclose it to their employer, if their usage of cannabis materially impacts their capacity to perform their duties, such as in safety sensitive jobs, or if they require or request a workplace accommodation. The panel said employers should work with their workers and doctors to come up with a reasonable way to accommodate them while on the job.

Detry Carragher, a management consultant and human resources professional, cautioned employers to "exercise restraint" when dealing with suspicions of employee drug use at work.

Detry Carragher, left, and Bobbi Jo Flynn talked about the importance of talking to legal and policy experts. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"Step back and gather the facts, don't jump to conclusions. Don't dismiss, fire, terminate — there's a certain protocol you can follow if you suspect someone is under the influence."

Seek out the experts 

The panellists said the key take away they hope each business owner takes with them is to reach out to legal and policy experts sooner rather than later. 

"It's really important to continue to stay abreast of what restrictions — because even though it's legal — it will be restricted," said Bobbi Jo Flynn, a justice policy analyst with the P.E.I. Department of Justice and Public Safety.

Flynn advised employers to stay up to date on changes to both federal and provincial cannabis legislation. She said the Liquor Control Commission of P.E.I. has a cannabis information page online, which will be updated with frequently asked questions and policy frameworks as the process moves forward.

Penny Walsh-McGuire said the chamber will continue to do what it can to educate its members on issues around the legalization of marijuana. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Penny Walsh-McGuire, executive director of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will do all it can to educate its members with updated policy and legal information as cannabis legislation is made into law on P.E.I. 

"What we heard today was don't go it alone," said Walsh-McGuire. "There's an important opportunity here to seek information from those who are working in this space and can help you perhaps get ahead of good policy before perhaps there's a misstep or misunderstanding in the workplace." 

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  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that employees using cannabis under a prescription have to disclose to their employer. In fact, that depends on a number of factors.
    May 03, 2018 1:25 PM AT