HR | Atlantic - Positive Change at Work

Tips for Planning the Company Summer Party

Jul 12, 2012


The first day of summer (June 21st) is long gone! Summer is here and if your organization is planning an office party to reward and celebrate it’s employees there are a few things to keep in mind. Company parties provide an atmosphere in which employees are rewarded, celebrated, and thanked.

Sometimes fun can get out of hand, especially if alcohol or water sports are part of the mix.  Some proactive planning and communication of expectations can go a long way to ensuring everyone has fun.  We thought we’d offer some pointers to minimize your worries at this year’s company picnic.



Serving alcohol at a company party raises the spectre of liability on the host, organizer or sponsor.  Just as at Christmas parties, organizations have a duty to monitor alcohol consumption and have a responsibility to ensure employees arrive home safely.

Consider having an alcohol free party, with non-alcoholic beverages, and cocktails available. If that is not an option,

  • Ensure that there are lots of non-alcohol options for guests, with food and activities to slow the pace of imbibing the high-test drinks;
  • Hire a bartender or go to a licensed establishment. Having a licensed person or establishment serve the liquor will reduce some of an employer’s liability;
  • Refrain from having an open bar, avoid letting employees bring their own alcohol or serve their own alcohol, and provide drink tickets to limit consumption amounts;
  • Supply vouchers for taxis, or provide a designated driver service, or accommodations – no one who drinks at your party (even just a couple of drinks) should be permitted to drive themselves home after the event;
  • Require party guests to hand in their car keys when getting their drink at the bar;
  • Do not encourage or promote over consumption. Avoid playing drinking games;
  • Schedule the party earlier in the day; people associate mass consumption with nighttime much more than the afternoon;
  • In addition to designated drivers, have a designated party host who will not be imbibing.  The host’s responsibility is to ensure that all your guests enjoy themselves and are safe. 

Outdoor Parties or Parties Involving Water Activities

Company summer parties often involve the great outdoors and water.  In planning the party, consider what safety measures to consider in the setting.

  • Ensure there is shelter from the sun.  Remind employees to bring their sunscreen and dress appropriately (long sleeves, hats etc);
  • Give employees detailed information about the area the party will take place. Include where bathrooms are located, any dangerous areas or situations that should be avoided (steep cliffs, undertows, old buildings, etc), and any safety requirements they should be aware of (location of lifejackets, fire extinguishers etc);
  • Booking the party at a commercial establishment can be a great option for improving the likelihood that the premises and equipment are safe and well maintained;
  • Send a memo a day or two before the party and remind employees of expected behaviors and create a zero-tolerance policy for those acting in a dangerous or unsafe manner.

Sexual Harassment & Bullying

When outside of the workplace setting, employees may feel less inhibited regarding their behaviors, but employer liability for sexual harassment and bullying continues even though you are away from the office or the shop floor.  It is also important that your company party is not an environment that could foster potential sexual harassment or bullying. Setting expectations for behavior and dress are two important steps, along with a few others, to reduce the potential for sexual harassment, bullying, and employment relations.

  • Remind staff that the same rules apply at the party as they would at work;
  • Consider having the party include spouse, partners, +1s.  The presence of guests often encourages people to be mindful of their behavior, and regulate their conduct accordingly;
  • Avoid playing games where employees choose and rank each other (“best hair”, “hardest worker”) to eliminate name calling, bullying, or harassment.

Social Media

Media is now pervasive.  Consider limiting its access to your event, unless you want photos of your senior managers doing spontaneous endorsements of their favourite beer or other beverage uploaded onto the world wide web.

  • Ask employees to refrain from taking photos, or videos of the event
  • Create a social media policy obligating employees to obtain approval before posting company information and pictures on their individual profiles or on the company profile, making it easier to monitor the organization’s image.

Company parties are a great way for employees to get to know one another and a great way for organizations to reward and appreciate their employees. However, with many potential liabilities and dangers that could arise it is important for organizations to be proactive and establish clear expectations and policies for the party. With everyone  on the same page, the party will go more smoothly, and a good time can be enjoyed by all. Happy celebrating!

By Sarah-Jayne MacDonald

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