Scope of employment refers to anything a person does in the ordinary course of doing his or her job. Determining whether an action occurred in the scope of employment can be very important in the legal context. A person's legal rights can be greatly affected based on whether his or her actions were done within the scope of employment.
The scope of employment has a somewhat broad definition. In general, if an action is done in the ordinary course of a job, it is considered to be within the scope of the job or the employment. If a person is directed to do an action by his or her employer, that action is also considered to be within the scope of the job, even if it is not an ordinary job duty.
Whether or not an action was done within the scope of employment may be important in several legal contexts. It is important in determining a worker's right to receive worker's compensation benefits, should he or she become injured on the job. It is also important in determining whether an employer is liable for torts (civil wrongs) committed by employees.
Worker's compensation provides workers legal protection for injuries incurred on the job. A worker who is injured while performing a work function is entitled to recover under worker's compensation laws without a lawsuit. This recovery can take the form of lost wages, medical bills, and even wrongful death damages when the injury leads to death.
Worker's compensation statutes in every state require the employee to have been acting within the scope of his or her employment in order to recover under worker's compensation protection. This means if an employee was away from the work cite, but carrying out a mandate from his employer or performing the ordinary function of his job, he can recover under worker's compensation. Whether or not the injury occurred within the scope of the job is a question of fact.
Whether an action falls in the scope of employment could also be important when determining tort liability. Employees, when carrying out normal job duties, are considered to be agents of their employer. Thus, under agency law, and in particular the doctrine of respondeat superior, the employer will be held liable for the employee's actions, and the injured person can sue the company.
If an employee is at work, but not acting within the scope of his job, the employer may be exempt from tort liability, and the employee may be unable to receive worker's compensation benefits if he is injured. Acting outside the scope of the job can include actions such as knowingly violating corporate policy. At other times, it can be less clear whether a person was acting within the scope of employment, and a judge or jury will be called upon to make the determination.