Drugs and alcohol


11 min read

What are drugs? Developing on farm policies Drug testing Good employment practices Is someone under the influence? Drugs in accomodation Companies that can help

Implementing a safe and drug-free workplace is essential in the dairy farming community. Both employees and employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe work environment. A comprehensive drugs and alcohol policy should be developed, outlining expectations, procedures, and support services. Drug testing can be conducted in various scenarios, and the results may be negative, non-negative, or confirmed positive, leading to appropriate actions. Employers should focus on good employment practices during recruitment and orientation. If you suspect someone is under the influence, follow specific steps, and take necessary precautions regarding drugs in accommodation. Seek assistance from reputable testing companies that comply with standards.

Both employees and employers have an obligation to ensure a safe work environment. Implementing a safe and drug free workplace needs to be carefully managed.

Health and safety is a shared commitment.  It is the responsibility of all those in the workplace to identify concerns about an individual’s immediate risk, the ability of an individual to perform their job and operate safely in the workplace.  If someone is under the influence of drugs (including the misuse of some prescription drugs and alcohol) in the workplace, their performance is likely to drop and they could pose a significant safety risk to themselves, others, animals and to your business.

Both employees and employers have an obligation to ensure a safe work environment. Implementing a safe and drug free workplace needs to be carefully managed:

  • Develop a Workplace Drugs Policy and Protocol with detail on how you intend to go about identifying and drug testing employees.

  • Employee drug testing must be completed under strict conditions and comply with certain standards. We strongly advise seeking help from an expert in this area.

  • Employment agreements must include a clause specific to drug testing.

  • Implementing new policies must be done in consultation with employees.

We advise that you seek specialist advice for your situation and provide appropriate education/training for those who will be responsible for managing any drug testing in the workplace.

What are drugs?

Drugs are chemicals or substances that impact our physical or mental state when introduced to the body. This includes alcohol, drugs, and at times prescription medication.

For a comprehensive understanding of drugs that are common in workplaces, visit the Drug Foundation website.

Developing a drugs and alcohol policy for your farm

A drugs and alcohol policy sets out what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to go about it. It outlines everyone’s role in this and what would happen if people were alleged to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol at work. The policy must be developed carefully, so it applies fairly and equally across the organisation.

New employees should be made aware of the policy, and a signed copy should be kept showing they have read and understood it. For existing employees the policy should be implemented in consultation with them.

We encourage you to seek expert advice when writing and implementing a drugs and alcohol policy.

A policy could detail:

  • The purpose and intent of the policy e.g. to provide a safe workplace.
  • Who is covered by the policy and their responsibilities e.g. employees and contractors.
  • What is acceptable at work in relation to drugs and alcohol, and what is not acceptable, including expectations around notice to the employer by an employee taking prescribed medication which may have adverse side effects.
  • How the employer will manage and control drugs and alcohol and their use at work. This will include the role of the manager, and rights to take action where there is a risk to health and safety (which may arise from the misuse of drugs and alcohol).
  • The use of alcohol and drugs when not at work and how that may impact the employee’s behaviour or performance at work.
  • How the employer will manage the social consumption of alcohol, such as at functions run by the employer.
  • The organisation’s approach to monitoring, prevention, education, training, screening, drug testing, privacy, assistance and/or rehabilitation.
  • How employees with alcohol or drug use problems might be identified, or identify themselves, and the support and assistance that the organisation is willing to provide.
  • How alleged breaches of the policy will be investigated and managed, including disciplinary action, and other possible consequences.
  • Details of support services available to employees and other people.
  • The employee's acknowledgement of an employer’s entitlement for search and surveillance, i.e. search and seizure of any unauthorised drugs or alcohol at any property or facility of the employer. This may include vehicles, work areas, sheds, and storage areas. (Note: An employer is entitled to conduct surveillance at any of its premises at any time, subject to the Privacy Act, and a policy should include reference to this ability, which may be relied on by an employer where there are health and safety concerns, such as those which may arise from employee misuse of drugs and/or alcohol.)
  • Reasonable information about consent being provided to employees: Before any testing is carried out, a consent form should be completed. This may be provided by the employer, or the employer may rely on a consent form that the drug testing provider may use. The consent form will usually cover aspects such as:
    • The employee’s consent to undergo the drug test and/or alcohol breath test.
    • That testing will be undertaken by an NZQA qualified collector and screener, and accredited laboratory.
    • The employee’s acknowledgement of the purpose of the test, i.e. to determine any illicit, restricted, or misused prescribed drugs, legal or designer drugs, any level of alcohol higher than the acceptable standard, or levels of other mind-altering substances (e.g. party pills, herbal highs).
    • The understanding that a urine or oral fluid specimen (saliva) will be collected and tested.
    • Agreement to provide proof of identity to the collector.
    • Agreement to provide the collector with information about any medication the employee is taking.
    • Agreement to the disclosure of test results to an authorised representative of the employer.
    • What refusal to sign the consent form may mean, e.g. that the refusal may be considered serious misconduct from which disciplinary action may follow.
    • The ability to request a second test be conducted if the employee disagrees with a test result.
    • The understanding of collection, storage or exchange of information about the test being in accordance with reasonable procedures to maintain the employee’s privacy.

Is drug testing right for your business?

An employer must balance the necessity of protecting the safety of employees with what can be viewed as an unreasonable intrusion into the privacy of employees.

Talk to your drug testing provider and confirm their drug tests are aligned with NZ and Australian standards and can stand up to legal requirements - so in a worst-case scenario, you can rely on that information in court.

Presently, the standard for drug testing is the AS/NZS 4308:2008 Australian/New Zealand standard for Procedures for the collection, detection and quantification of drugs of abuse in urine.  Many employers refer to the legal requirements for driving under the influence of alcohol as a guide with regard to deeming there to be misuse of alcohol at work.  The test for alcohol will usually be carried out using a breath alcohol testing device which complies with the AS 3547-1997 standard for the measurement of alcohol.

Policies should allow for changes to drug testing standards, as improvements in internationally recognised standards and procedures are introduced.

In all cases make sure you have aligned your testing methods and procedures with your drugs and alcohol policy and the relevant clauses in employment agreements.

Drug tests can be undertaken in different scenarios:

  • Pre-employment testing
    In this scenario an employer may decline to make a job offer, may not offer the job until a clear result is given, or offer employment on the condition that the applicant’s results are negative. If you offer conditional employment you will need to state what the process is, if someone’s result comes back as non-negative.

  • Random drug tests
    In some instances where the employees are working in ‘safety sensitive areas’ random drug testing maybe legal. However, an employee’s right to privacy must be considered and policies will be required to set up a process so that the drug tests should be truly randomised.

  • Testing a specific person
    A person is tested for a specific purpose. That purpose might include where there is ‘reasonable cause’ to believe that the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It may include a person’s demeanor, physical symptoms and / or unusual out of character behaviour. Reasonable cause testing should be introduced only once managers/supervisors receive training on how to identify signs of the possible influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

  • Post an incident or accident
    Testing those people recently involved in a workplace accident or a near-miss to ascertain if drugs / alcohol were a factor.

  • Periodic drug tests
    Testing occurs at set intervals (e.g. every 3 months) for an employee. This is sometimes used if someone is rehabilitating after drugs and alcohol and has agreed to a programme of testing to ensure that they are clear.

Drug Testing Results

The results of drug tests are initially either negative or non-negative:

  • A negative result means that drugs or alcohol haven’t been detected.
  • A non-negative results means the initial test suggests there may be drugs or alcohol present. If an initial test gives a non-negative result, as a precaution the situation must be treated as an impairment even though the test isn’t conclusive. The person tested should cease working in safety sensitive roles until they’re considered no longer impaired. Another test is then undertaken.
  • A confirmed positive result requires an additional confirmation test to establish if a non-negative result is positive. This is usually done in a laboratory.

Test results may also be considered invalid, such as where tests show an abnormal specimen being substituted or tampered with. This will ordinarily require a second sample or test.

Support and Rehabilitation

In some instances, offering additional support and/or rehabilitation may help an employee overcome drug or alcohol issues for themselves or others (e.g. family members). There is no legal requirement for an employee to take up such offers.

When a positive drug test has been returned, if the employee commits to a rehabilitation programme, the expectations of the parties should be carefully documented, with the help of an advisor.

Support may include:

  • An avenue that employees can use to self-identify a drug problem and seek help or rehabilitation services.
  • An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or other counselling services (recommendations are usually available via the local medical centre) to help where alcohol or drugs problem are evident or suspected.
  • Offering time off work so that an employee can attend a programme.

The aim should be to have the employee return to full and normal work as quickly as possible, consistent with the needs of the treatment and rehabilitation programme. If the employee remains at work while receiving treatment , expectations for the employee’s work performance and behaviour should be  fully stated and understood by all parties. The consequences of not meeting those standards should also be very clear.

Good employment practices

1. Recruitment

The best way to minimise the risk of employees with drug or alcohol issues affecting your business is to have a strong health and safety culture, together with robust employment practices in place.

In job advertising material, include your approach to drugs and alcohol so prospective employees can self-select to apply for positions that align with their values.

Interviews give an opportunity for employers to explain their stance on drugs and alcohol in the workplace and to check with prospective employees if this will be an issue. Remember that any questions asked, cannot contravene the Human Rights Act.

Information disclosure forms
Use information disclosure forms as they give you written confirmation of some of the employees details and usually include a statement about them being truthful and honest in the information they have put forward during the recruitment process.

Reference checking
Complete thorough reference checking. If accommodation may be supplied, consider asking for a landlord reference.

Criminal conviction check
You may choose to complete a criminal conviction check, more information on this can be found on the Ministry of Justice website.

Pre-employment drug tests
Complete pre-employment drug tests. Please note that the collection and retention of personal health information about employees must be:

  • Stored securely by employers
  • Accessible only by authorised person
  • Only used for its intended purpose.

Read more about selecting the best person here

2. Offering the job

Include some safeguards in the employment agreement including:

  • If you are planning to complete drug testing, it should be a term in the employment agreement with reference to all policies being adhered to.
  • The employment agreement should require the employee to confirm any pre-employment disclosures as a term of employment. For example, that the employee confirms the assurances he/she has made about the expectation of a “clean” drug and/or alcohol test being returned, and that these are linked to the good faith obligations around an employee not communicating in a way that is likely to mislead or deceive.
  • Include a 90 day trial period. More information on this can be found on the Employment New Zealand website.

Talk through tenancy expectations and in particular explain that the prospective employee is liable for any damage visitors to the accommodation may cause. For example if a friend smoked P in their house, they could be liable for damages.

Landlords must provide a clean property. At the start of a new tenancy agreement ensure you include a clause about testing the house. We recommend testing the house between tenants.

3. Orientation

Discuss the relevant policies and procedures, including your workplace drug and alcohol policy and who to talk to if they suspect that someone else may be under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

What to do if you suspect someone is under the influence

  • Consider the information you are acting on; where did it come from, is it plausible?
  • Determine if it is safe to approach the person. If it isn’t, seek help from an advisor or police.
  • If it is safe and you suspect the person is still under the influence of a drug or alcohol, ensure their safety. Take them to a quiet place with fresh air. Sit them in a comfortable position, and help keep them calm.
  • Discuss with them that information (ensuring you respect everyone’s privacy) has come to light which means you suspect that they could be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Outline (from your drug and alcohol policy) what will happen next, including that you may consider suspending them (which will ordinarily be on pay). Give the employee an opportunity to comment.
  • Ensure they have a safe way to leave the property (i.e. someone to pick them up). If not, arrange safe transport from work to the employee's home.
  • Complete appropriate drug testing through a licensed provider. Most medical centres will also offer workplace drug testing services.
  • Once drug testing results have been received, complete a thorough investigation as you would with any employment issue. For more information, see the disciplinary process webpage.
  • Depending on the result you’ll need to decide the best course of action. Consider education, rehabilitation and disciplinary action. Ensure that you follow your own drugs and alcohol policy and employment agreement clauses.
  • We strongly advise that you seek professional advice through this process.

Drugs in accommodation

The manufacturing of drugs (particularly ‘P’) and use of it in accommodation provided by the employer can have long lasting effects. Clean-ups are costly and there is potential for severe health problems for current and future residents living in a contaminated house. Landlords must provide 'a reasonable state of cleanliness.’

A landlord can:

  • Talk about your expectations of your tenant at the start and throughout the tenancy, e.g.:
    • That the tenant (employee) keep the property reasonably clean and tidy.
    • That the tenant will not intentionally or carelessly, damage or permit any one else to damage the property.
    • That the tenant will not use the property or permit it to be used for any unlawful purpose.
    • That damage, such as methamphetamine contamination, that arises during the course of the tenancy would be considered the fault of the employee (provided a clear test was obtained before the tenant moved in), and that this would likely result in the termination of the employment relationship and/or tenancy, and the landlord seeking to recover the costs of remediation from the tenant.

  • Watch for signs of manufacture and use of drugs. Some tell-tale signs include:
    • Chemical odours and dead vegetation around a section.
    • An increase in visitors, combined with houses being outfitted with elaborate CCTV systems, curtains always shut.
    • Visible stains on curtains, walls and ceilings.
    • Waste including empty medicine packaging, paint thinner containers and coffee filters with white or red powdery substances.

  • Complete regular house inspections
  • At the start of a new tenancy agreement ensure that you include a clause about testing the house. For more information visit the Tenancy Services website.
  • Complete testing of the house to see if there is drug contamination (usually methamphetamine) before, during and after a tenant. To do this the correct way visit the Tenancy Services website.
  • Discuss with your insurer what will happen if drugs are found in accommodation and what their policy and procedures are.

If drugs are found in accommodation

Every situation is different. Consider any action taken in the following two areas:

    1. The tenancy agreement with the tenant:
      • Ensure your safety first and that of others entering the property
      • Complete testing (only if in tenancy agreement)
      • If a positive result - contact police
      • Tell tenant the outcome of testing and if possible/relevant ask them about drug use
      • Consider level of drugs detected (seek advice) e.g. was it likely that drugs are being manufactured, used regularly, or used occasionally
      • If appropriate terminate tenancy agreement with required notice as per terms and conditions so clean-up can commence
      • If appropriate find alternative accommodation for those living in house
      • Contact insurance company and commence clean up of property
      • Investigate potential to recoup expenses incurred from tenant

    2. The employment relationship with the employee:
      • Are there any other signs that the employee may have been involved (e.g. job performance, behaviour at work, demeanour etc.)
      • If so, conduct an investigation which may include drug testing the employee
      • Refer to the section above on this webpage called 'What to do if you suspect someone is under the influence'.

Companies that can help

Look for companies that have IANZ (International Accreditation of NZ) accreditation or that state they test to AS/NZS 4308:2008 Australian/New Zealand standard.

Research your local area for providers of workplace alcohol and drug testing services. You need to have confidence that the service offered meets your expectations regarding quality and availability. Your policy can then be introduced and/or implemented in a manner consistent with that provider’s usual process.

If you are a Federated Farmers member, a drugs and alcohol policy is available. Please ensure that it aligns with your employment agreements and other employment policies.

Last updated: Sep 2023

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