When an employee causes harm to another worker or a customer, the courts often hold the employer accountable for the damages. This is the case even if the employer did not intend to cause harm and/or if the employer played no physical role in the incident. This is due to the concept of vicarious liability, which has its basis in the “respondeat superior” doctrine. Per respondeat superior, Pennsylvania employers are responsible for the acts and omissions employees commit during the course of employment.
According to FindLaw, the phrase “course of employment” is key in determining liability for accidents that occur in the workplace. For the courts to hold the employer accountable, the negligent action must have been one that either the employer authorized or that was closely related to an authorized act. The courts use the terms “detour” and “frolic” to differentiate between an act performed during the course of employment and one unrelated to an employee’s role.
A “detour” occurs when an employee deviates from the employer’s instructions but with the intent to accomplish the employer’s original request. The way in which the employee performs the task may differ only slightly from the original directives. Typically, if an employee commits a detour and causes harm, the courts will still hold the employer liable. A “frolic,” on the other hand, occurs when an employee acts of his or her own accord and without employer direction.
FindLaw provides examples to illustrate the differences between detour and folic. In example one, an employer loans its sales representatives vehicles and directs them to make sales calls in the area. The employer encourages sales reps to take clients out for dinner and some drinks. After an evening of schmoozing, an employee gets in a company vehicle and heads home. On the way, he or she hits a pedestrian. In this case, the employee acted with employer authorization, even if he or she did detour a bit from the original directives.
In the second example, the employer loans its sales reps company vehicles to make sales calls in the area. One night, an employee takes a vehicle to a bar for purely personal reasons. On the way home, the employee hits a pedestrian. In this case, the courts would consider the employee’s actions frolic.
This article is for educational purposes only. It is not designed to be legal advice.