Employment Agreements


2 min read

Where to get an employment Permanent, fixed term or casual Trial period

An employment agreement defines the rules of the working relationship between the employee and the farm owner/manager on a dairy farm. It must be in writing, and the employer is responsible for arranging it. This agreement outlines both parties' rights, responsibilities, and expectations, and can protect both sides if things go wrong. It can cover permanent, fixed-term, or casual employment, and may include trial periods for new employees. If you don't have a written agreement, you still have legal rights and protection. Templates can be found through various sources like Federated Farmers and Rural Professionals.

By law, all employees must have a written individual employment agreement that sets out the basic terms and conditions of employment.

The employer is responsible for arranging the agreement and may face a fine of up to $1000 per employee if they fail to provide a written employment agreement.

An employment agreement sets out the rules of the working relationship between the employee and the farm owner/manager (the employer). It explains what each party’s rights and responsibilities are, what is expected of them, and can protect both parties if things do not work out.

The agreement should be signed by the employer and employee before employment begins, however, an agreement can still be valid even if it is not signed.

There are some things that must be included in a written employment agreement, and while it may include other terms and conditions (like notice period or leave), it doesn’t have to, and minimum rights such as 4 weeks’ annual leave must be provided by law.

If you have been working for your employer but do not have a written employment agreement, you will usually still be an employee for legal purposes. Every employee is entitled to minimum employment standards (like minimum wage and annual leave) and will have legal rights and protection even if they do not have a written employment agreement.

Where to get an employment agreement

If an employee does not have an employment agreement, they can ask their employer for one. The employer must provide a copy by law.

Some businesses write their own employment agreements using the employment agreement builder, but most dairy farmers get templates from the following sources:

  • Federated Farmers
  • Rural Professionals – including lawyers, accountants and farm consultants.

Permanent, fixed term or casual

Whether you are permanently employed (full or part time) or casual, you must be given a written employment agreement. This includes people like relief milkers who are only on the farm irregularly (casually) or for a set period of time (fixed term).

If an employee is in a permanent position, it means that the work is ongoing and there is no end to it.

A fixed term employment agreement has an end date and may be offered to someone if there is a genuine reason for the work to only cover a set period of time, perhaps for a specific project or for parental leave cover.

The employment agreement should clearly state the reason for the fixed term, when the fixed term employment will end and why. The employee and employer should agree to this in writing before work begins and the employee should not expect the job to continue after the end date.

A casual employment agreement means the employee should have no expectation there will be regular work or any pattern of work hours. It means the work hours will only be offered on an as-needed basis. The employee should have the option to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the work, based on their availability.

The Employment New Zealand website has more information on types of employee.

Trial period

Trial periods can only be used by employers with fewer than 20 employees. If there is a trial period in an employment agreement, it should only be for up to 90 days from the start of employment.

A trial period is a common arrangement and is legal provided the employee agreed to the trial period before they started work and is agreed by the employer and employee in good faith.

For the trial period to be valid, the employee must have signed the employment agreement before they started work (even 5 minutes after starting has been held by the courts to be too late), and they must be a new employee (this means they must never have worked for that employer, even on a casual basis, before).

The employment agreement may allow your employer to give you a shorter notice period during your trial period; employees should clarify this if they are unsure.

The Employment New Zealand website has more information about trial periods.

Last updated: Sep 2023

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