Tougher stance, fewer workers

A tougher stance on employees under the influence of drugs or alcohol is shrinking the rural labour pool.

Rural sector employers say they need to take a united stand against employing those who choose to work under the influence alcohol or drugs, putting safety and the business at risk.

However, the outcome of adopting such a stance has been to shrink their already limited labour pool, they say.

Employers across all sectors are becoming more vigilant about drug and alcohol testing in the workplace, as well as pre-employment testing, because they have a duty under the Health and Safety in Employment Act to provide a safe workplace. . .

People working under the influence of drugs or alcohol aren’t just a danger to themselves they can put other people vehicles, machinery and equipment at risk too.

Landcorp Farming Ltd national recruitment and training manager Al McCone said the state-owned enterprise had had a drug and alcohol policy in place since 2007.

Landcorp Farming Ltd, one of the country’s largest farmers, strictly enforced its alcohol policy and was looking to extend its drug policy, Mr McCone said.

Pre-employment drug testing was already mandatory and at present it was consulting staff about expanding its workplace testing to include random testing, he said.

Staff were required to take on many responsibilities on farm.

This included dealing with animals and machinery – a potentially ”hazardous” mix, he said.

”We need people in full control of their faculties.” . . .

But not everyone wants to be in control of their faculties.’

Drug use seemed to be a factor making it difficult for some people to get work, he said.

”As soon as they find out we have an entry drug test they will hang up [the phone].

”It’s reducing the population we can draw our workers from.” . . .

DairyNZ people team leader Jane Muir said she believed more farmers were carrying out pre-employment and on-farm drug testing. . . .

A united stand was ”the ideal”, and showed there was ”no place for drugs on farms”.

However, the shortage of labour meant it posed a ”challenge”.

Work on dairy farm involved working with other people and with a food product. Employees must be heedful of health and safety and have good skills, attitude and concentration, she said.

To attract and keep the best employees and keep drugs and alcohol out of the workplace employers had to build a reputation as an ”employer of choice”, provide ”great” working conditions and encourage staff to be involved in the business, Ms Muir said.

Contracts, systems, policies and procedures around drug-testing must be sound and adhered to by the employer, as well as the employee, she said.

”If you say you have random testing then you must carry out random testing.

”Be aware, even if someone tests positive, there is still a process that must be followed,” Ms Muir said.

Not following the process can put employers in the wrong, even when they’re right about staff trying to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The owner of a food processing business in a small town was sure one of his staff was using drugs and it was endangering him at work. He called the police who arrested and charged the worker but he was let off on a technicality.

He applied for a benefit and was told he’d have to have a stand-down period. He then took action against his former employer for wrongful dismissal, the employer lost and had to employ the man again.

The worker carried on taking drugs, endangering himself and putting the food he was processing at risk.

The employer was concerned about the bad example it set for other workers and the risks to his business and was about to sack the worker when he left.

9 Responses to Tougher stance, fewer workers

  1. Gravedodger says:

    Have a m8 who is a honcho with a national freight Coy and asked him about testing drivers.
    Their policy was test all applicants then only test if an incident happened,
    The trust and self reliance was an important part in personel relations at his POW

  2. jabba says:

    I wonder what would happen if smoking dope was no longer a criminal offence, as suggested by a certain party.
    In most work places, you are not allowed to be under the influence of alcohol but that can be measured as with drunk driving.
    People have drinks with lunch and return to work, would they be able to have a joint and go back?

  3. Viv K says:

    No one should be paid for any work done after consuming alcohol or smoking dope.
    MPs should not be able to vote on legislation after drinking any alcohol. I pay their wages with my taxes and I want sober (and straight) people to make laws.
    “People have drinks with lunch and return to work”- only business people who don’t actually do any genuine work when they go back to the office. Health workers, teachers, police etc don’t drink at work. I’m guessing no one at Tracey’s work would ever drink during the day. Work is for work and relaxation is for after work.
    I’ve had my cup of tea & now back to work.

  4. TraceyS says:

    “Hooper was asked to take a drug test at work and test came back over 20 times the accepted level for THC-Acid.”

    On technicalities the Court found that “…Hooper’s dismissal was unjustified. He was entitled to lost wages and $4,000 compensation for hurt feelings.”

    (http://www.findlaw.co.nz/articles/4312/-drug-testing-case-example-employer-needed-reasona.aspx)

    And in another case…

    “Mr Cheyne said the company required reasonable cause before it could require an employee to undergo drug or alcohol testing.”

    (http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/6492810/Sacked-worker-awarded-15-000)

    Both these employees had drugs in their bodies while at work. Yet in the Court’s view they are the victims.

    The standard for “reasonable cause” is obviously too high. The government should seek to redefine this in the law because the above outcomes are nonsense.

    In order to manage drug and alcohol-related disciplinary processes successfully you virtually need to be a lawyer and be up with all the case law. How many small business owners have time or skills for that?

    If health and safety legislation was combined with employment legislation then we would be able to clearly appreciate the incongruence between these pieces of law.

  5. Gravedodger says:

    Viv, tea is a stimulant, cough, did you wash your hands before you made the cuppa.
    Your comment recalls for me the country cop who conveyed needed Oxygen cylinders to a crash without incident then found himself facing charges for driving over the limit on the complaint of an officious Ambo who called for more O2.

  6. JC says:

    This is the nonsense some employers now face..

    Health and Safety laws will fine you heavily if you don’t test for drugs, but the Employment Court will fine you heavily if you do.

    JC

  7. TraceyS says:

    Ah but employers will generally only get fined under HSE Act if they actually have an accident where they are at fault. You’re not very likely to get a $15,000 fine for not carrying out random or pre-employment drug/alcohol testing unless harm is involved.

    This is where the problem lies. Stumping up to and addressing problems is more likely to land an employer in Court and receiving a fine. So some just don’t deal with problems. They hope for the best, take their chances. Taking too many chances is why many accidents occur.

    Harm to feelings (ie. hurt and humiliation) has become elevated above physical harm. In our laws anyway. This is wrong. If someone suffers a little embarrassment because their drug use affecting safety is exposed, well, that’s tough in my view. I only wish the Judges saw it that way.

    It would not be this way if H&S and employment laws were combined. Especially if it was made clear that everyone’s right to a physically safe work environment sits at the top of all other entitlements. But I’m sure the unions would not like this idea.

    So you’re damned if you don’t deal with employee drug/alcohol problems, but you’re more damned if you do deal with it and get the damn process wrong. It should be a straightforward process to “take all practicable steps” as the HSE Act requires employers to do. The simpler it is the less accidents there will be.

    When taking all practicable steps to prevent harm, employers should be excused for putting a procedural foot wrong. It may save a foot, arm or life after all!

  8. Viv K says:

    But was the country cop at work or on call? I’d bet that incident didn’t happen on a Tuesday lunchtime. I know my 1st sentence was a very broad brush one, but I don’t think anyone, MPs included, should be drinking alcohol at work. Business lunches are a scam and MPs should be completely sober in the debating chamber.

  9. Gravedodger says:

    Gee viv thats the end of the pin striped dwarf then

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