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Pre Employment Drug Testing NZ: Guide to Workplace Drug Tests in New Zealand

27 February, 2024

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Drug testing in New Zealand is a common practice in many workplaces. It helps keep the working environment free from the hazards of illegal drugs and alcohol abuse. One essential type is pre-employment drug testing in NZ. This process involves examining potential employees for illicit substances in their system before they are hired. As an applicant, there are several factors to consider when undergoing this test, such as different methods and procedures.

Alcohol and drug abuse are some of the leading factors that can affect workplace safety and productivity. Thus, implementing drug screening tests can be an efficient measure to minimise accidents and injuries. It is also vital to emphasise the testing policies to prospective employees during the admission process so they can be aware. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of pre-employment drug testing methods, legalities, and procedures in New Zealand.

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An Overview of Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ

Pre-employment drug testing in NZ is a crucial step in the hiring process for many companies. Employers often request this procedure to ensure new hires do not have substance abuse issues that can impact their performance and safety on the job. In addition, it helps mitigate potential risks and liabilities associated with drug use in the workplace.

There are several types of drug testing, including urine and saliva testing. They are quick, easy to administer, and provide quick results. However, more complicated methods may be necessary in certain situations. Some circumstances may require laboratory blood testing or hair follicle testing. By conducting these tests, employers can manage safety risks efficiently.

Employers must have a clear drug testing policy in place that outlines when and how the tests will be conducted, as well as the consequences for positive results. Moreover, it is essential for employers to comply with privacy and employment laws when conducting workplace drug testing. Overall, a pre-employment test contributes to a safe and productive environment.

A Brief History

  • In 1992, the Health and Safety Act was established, making pre-employment testing possible.
  • The first version of the Australian/New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS) was first published in 1995, introducing risk management strategies and standardisation of drug and alcohol testing procedures.
  • Safety-sensitive industries started implementing drug and alcohol policies as a business requirement of mandated safety programs.
  • The workplace programs focus on education and rehabilitation.
  • In 2005, The Drug Detection Agency (TDDA) provided NZ businesses with end-to-end substance testing, education, and policy services.
  • In 2013, workplaces adopted the ISO 45001, an international standard for occupational health and safety (OH&S) management systems.

A worker looking at heavy machinery

Importance of Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ

Pre-employment drug testing in NZ is essential for several reasons. Firstly, it helps to ensure that potential hires do not have substance abuse issues. Drug use among employees can impair judgment, coordination, and overall performance. By conducting this test, employees can identify individuals with these issues and make informed hiring decisions.

Secondly, aside from ensuring safety, pre-employment testing can also help maintain optimal productivity. Employers hire applicants without any drug issues, leading to a more efficient and stable workforce. Additionally, fewer workplace accidents lead to lower healthcare costs and disruptions. It can also result in lower employee turnover and reduced absenteeism.

Furthermore, pre-employment drug testing is crucial for compliance with health and safety regulations in NZ. Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe work environment, and drug testing is one way to uphold this responsibility. It also helps to mitigate legal liabilities and negligence issues in cases of substance-related accidents. In summary, drug testing is a critical step in the hiring process to mitigate risks and ensure a safe and productive work environment.

Benefits of a Safe Working Environment

Working in a safe environment can bring many benefits both to the employer and employees. When employees feel safe and secure, they are more productive and motivated to do their best work. This leads to higher job satisfaction, lower turnover rates, and a more positive company culture.

In addition, a safe and healthy workplace improves the morale and mental health of employees. There are fewer risk factors for long-term stress and anxiety, which may lead to seeking illegal drugs. Hence, employees with a healthy disposition are more likely to make better decisions and have a positive impact on their bottom line and long-term success.

A gavel, book, and a scale

Legal Requirements for Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ

There are several legal requirements for pre-employment drug testing in NZ that employers must adhere to. The most important requirement is having a clear drug and alcohol policy in place. The policy must outline the reasons and procedures for testing and should be communicated to all employees. This ensures transparency and compliance with the law.

Another essential compliance that businesses must follow is adhering to privacy acts. This act protects the individual’s privacy and personal information, which includes drug test results. It also prohibits discrimination based on factors such as disability or ethnicity in drug testing practices. Additionally, it includes how to handle positive test results and the consequences of failing a drug test.

Job posting should typically include pre-employment testing as part of the requirements and conditions of the hiring process. Therefore, all job applicants are aware that they are expected to undergo this procedure. A failed drug test may result in being eligible for the position. This is necessary in high-risk industries like mining, transportation, and construction, which involve the operation of heavy machinery or equipment.

Compliance with the Privacy Act

Compliance with the Privacy Act is important when implementing drug testing in the workplace. This Act protects the personal information of individuals, including their medical records. Thus, companies must ensure that all testing procedures are conducted in a confidential and secure manner to uphold the privacy rights of current and prospective employees.

Ensuring the confidentiality of test results is crucial, as drug testing can be a sensitive issue. It must be handled with care and professionalism to maintain trust between employers and employees. Moreover, companies must only share the results with authorised personnel who have a legitimate need to know.

A gavel next to a book and a hard hat

Regulations and Policies for Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ

Aside from compliance with privacy rights, there are regulations that govern pre-employment drug testing in NZ. Firstly, organisations are legally allowed to conduct drug testing as part of the recruitment process and throughout employment. This is essential in high-risk industries. However, smaller businesses can also implement drug screening through a comprehensive policy.

Companies must also adhere to the Health and Safety at Work Act. This regulation requires employers to provide a safe working environment for employees. It includes ensuring that individuals are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work. A workplace policy allows employers to conduct pre-employment testing to identify candidates who may pose a safety hazard.

Furthermore, employers in New Zealand have the responsibility to inform job applicants about their drug testing policies and procedures. This ensures a reasonable and fair process, striking a balance between workplace safety and employee privacy. By following the regulations and policies, employers can create a safe workplace and mitigate potential legal issues.

Policy Implementation

Employers or businesses follow the general guidelines for implementing a workplace testing policy:

  • Draft a written policy. Employers may consult with legal experts and safety representatives to ensure the policy complies with all relevant laws and regulations.
  • Management may also collaborate with employees or unions to address any concerns or issues surrounding drug testing.
  • Communicate the policy to all employees. Provide education and training about the reasons for conducting the test, collection procedures, and expectations.
  • Provide training for supervisors and employees on how to recognise signs of impairment or abuse.
  • Maintain accurate records of all drug test results and ensure confidentiality.

A person showing a breathalyser result

Methods for Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ – Alcohol Breath Tests

Alcohol breath tests are one of the methods that employers may use during pre-employment drug testing in NZ. This method determines if an employee has consumed alcohol recently. Companies often use a portable breathalyser device to provide quick and accurate results. The device measures the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) through a breath sample.

The BAC level reflects the intoxication degree of a person. The higher the alcohol level, the more severe the impairment. Moreover, a breath test can detect alcohol consumption within the past 12 to 24 hours. The breathalyser relies on sensor technology to detect alcohol compounds in the breath. The concentration of alcohol in the breath is proportional to the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream.

To conduct an alcohol breath test, the individual must simply blow into the mouthpiece. They must blow steadily for five to six seconds and wait for the BAC results to display on the screen. Depending on the pre-employment screening policies, a positive result may lead to further testing or disqualification from the job position.

Advantages of Alcohol Breath Testing

Alcohol breath testing provides many advantages in the workplace. One of the main advantages is its ease of use and non-invasive nature. The sample collection procedure is easy, allowing for on-the-spot testing. In addition, the results are available within seconds. This enables a swift and efficient evaluation of job candidates.

Employers can perform multiple tests without incurring significant expenses. This makes alcohol breath testing cost-efficient compared to other methods. The accuracy of breathalysers ensures reliable results. However, it is important to note that they can only detect recent alcohol consumption and not long-term or chronic use and patterns.

A urine sample next to a cassette showing positive for THC

Methods for Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ – Urine Tests

The urine test is considered the standard drug testing method in the workplace and other settings. This method is effective in detecting a wide range of illicit drugs for an extended period. Urine samples can trace substances for 24 to 72 hours or longer. Thus, pre-employment drug testing in NZ can help determine individuals who may have substance abuse issues.

Business owners have several options to conduct a urine drug test. A cost-effective approach is using a urine drug testing kit. This tool is convenient and provides quick results. It can be used easily at the worksite, minimising the need to go to a clinic. Alternatively, employers can send the samples to a laboratory for further analysis.

To conduct the test, individuals are provided with a small collection container to obtain a sample. Then, they submit it to a testing officer or collector for analysis. The test can detect the presence of drug or their metabolites. Most pre-employment tests include screening for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, and benzodiazepines.

Advantages of Urine Testing

Urine tests offer several advantages for drug detection. One of its main benefits is its ability to trace a wide range of illicit substances. It has a longer detection window than blood or saliva tests. Additionally, it can provide a profile of current and recent drug usage.

Other advantages include being non-invasive and cost-effective. The collection procedure of urine is quick and painless. Companies may also choose a higher number of panels to screen for more substances. Lastly, it is relatively inexpensive. Urine test kits are more affordable compared to laboratory testing. Some tools allow split sampling to conduct confirmatory testing, saving time and resources.

A certified collector gathering saliva samples

Methods for Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ – Saliva Tests

Another method used for pre-employment drug testing in NZ is saliva testing. This option is becoming increasingly popular due to its ease of use and accuracy. Saliva samples have a detection window of 24 to 48 hours, providing insights into recent drug use. The test can also provide quick results, allowing employers to make timely decisions.

Similar to urine drug screens, saliva testing is available through rapid testing kits. These kits may contain a collection swab or pad and a testing device. To perform the test, the employer or administrator uses the swab stick to brush the inside of the cheek. After obtaining an adequate sample, it is immersed in a testing device that contains reagents and waits for the results.

The saliva drug test provides qualitative results, such as the presence or absence of drugs. In case of a positive or non-negative outcome, follow-up testing is necessary to confirm the initial test. While this method is efficient in detecting recent consumption, it may not be effective in determining long-term or chronic use.

Advantages of Saliva Testing

  • The test is convenient and easy to administer. They can be conducted on-site at any time without needing toilet facilities.
  • Test kits come with clear instructions and easy-to-use features. In some cases, employers can conduct the test themselves without requiring laboratory personnel.
  • The specimen collection is less intrusive compared to urine or blood testing. Saliva samples are readily available, except in cases of dry mouth.
  • Saliva tests can provide quick results, usually after 5-10 minutes for rapid test kits.
  • Oral fluid testing requires a small sample that is collected under supervision. This reduces the risk of tampering.
  • It is relatively less expensive.

A lab technician putting hair samples into a petri dish

Methods for Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ – Hair Tests

Hair testing is another common method used in pre-employment drug testing in NZ. This type of testing has a longer detection, making it ideal for identifying chronic drug use. Hair samples can track substance usage up to 90 days prior to the test date. Hence, it can provide a comprehensive overview of the drug use history of a person.

When a person consumes drugs, metabolites or byproducts enter the hair shaft and remain there as the hair grows. This allows for a more accurate representation of drug usage over an extended period. To conduct a hair test, a collector cuts a small sample of hair close to the crown and sends it to a laboratory for analysis.

One of the main reasons why employers use hair follicle testing in pre-employment is because it is difficult to manipulate the sample. It can still trace past usage even though a person may abstain for a few days. Techniques like Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) can identify trace amounts of drug metabolites in hair.

Advantages of Hair Testing

Hair testing has several advantages over other forms of drug testing methods. One of the major advantages is the longer detection window. This allows the detection of habitual drug use and more accurate results. Another advantage is the difficulty in tampering with the sample. as external pollutants could not easily contaminate the hair.

Furthermore, collecting a hair sample is simple, painless, and non-invasive. The testing officer often obtains the specimen from an unobtrusive part of the head. However, if head hair is unavailable, body hair can be used as an alternative. Overall, it is easy to administer, accurate, and less susceptible to adulteration.

A consent form for drug and alcohol testing

Common Procedure for Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ

Companies have to follow specific procedures when implementing pre-employment drug testing in NZ. Firstly, there must be clear notification. The job notice must include drug tests as part of the hiring process requirement. This may include details on the type of test to be conducted and what happens to the results.

Next, employers inform the applicant when to conduct the test and what preparations can be made. They may instruct individuals to refrain from eating or drinking certain food or drinks a few hours to minutes before the test. This is to ensure accurate results and minimise the risk of false positives. Moreover, employers must obtain consent. This consent is important so applicants understand the reasons for the testing.

After the drug testing procedure, employers must inform the candidates of the expected time they can get the results. It is vital to emphasise confidentiality at this stage. A positive drug test result may cause ineligibility for the job. However, if an applicant believes the test is inaccurate, they may request a confirmation test.

How Long Will the Results Be Available?

The duration for drug test results to be available can vary depending on the type of test being conducted. Typically, it is available within a few hours to a few days. For example, individuals may receive their results within the same day using rapid testing kits.

Conversely, those who utilise laboratory tests may take a few days to a week. In addition, employers may take additional measures to ensure the accuracy of the results. Individuals may receive the results through a phone call, email, or in-person meeting with the employer. It is important to maintain confidentiality to protect the privacy of applicants.

A worker who fell from a high place

Are There Other Types of Workplace Testing Aside from Pre-Employment Drug Testing in NZ?

Aside from pre-employment drug testing in NZ workplaces, there are other types of tests that organisations implement. One common type is random drug testing. This involves screening employees at random intervals or without a set schedule. The purpose of this test is to monitor substance use or impairment. This can help minimise the hazards of drug-related accidents, which may happen anytime.

Another type of workplace testing is post-incident testing. This procedure is vital after an accident or injury to determine if drug use contributed to the incident. It helps determine liability and ensure workplace safety. Moreover, some companies conduct regular or periodic drug testing to monitor substance use over time. It is often a part of the annual medical or physical examination to ensure fitness for duty.

Additionally, employers conduct for-cause or targeted testing. This type of test occurs when an employee shows reasonable suspicion or signs of drug use or impairment. This can provide an objective basis for taking appropriate actions. Likewise, it can help identify and address potential issues before they escalate.

Summary of the Other Types

  • Random drug testing: The test may happen anytime without prior announcement. This is to identify employees who may be under the influence of drugs while working.
  • Post-incident testing: Testing after an accident or near-miss to determine if drug use was a contributing factor.
  • Regular or periodic testing: Monitoring substance use over time to ensure continued fitness for duty. This test applies to all employees.
  • For-cause or targeted testing: The test is applied to a particular employee showing signs of impairment. This may include bloodshot eyes, foul odour, unkempt appearance, loss of balance, slow reaction time, and poor coordination.


In conclusion, pre-employment drug testing in NZ is just one of the many types of workplace testing. Employers implement this test to determine the suitability of job candidates for safety-sensitive roles. It can help reveal if a person has substance abuse issues, which can compromise the safety of the workplace and other employees. By hiring individuals free from drug use, employers can ensure a safe, healthy, and productive work environment for the long term.

Drug testing takes several forms. The most common types are breath alcohol, urine, saliva, and hair testing. They can detect substances at varying periods and have different accuracy levels. Furthermore, it is crucial for companies to establish a comprehensive workplace policy to implement the tests. The policy should adhere to relevant regulations and industry standards to ensure compliance with legal requirements. Ultimately, workplace drug testing helps maintain safety and productivity.

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