What is Scope of Employment?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2020
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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.


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Post 3

Can a worker's job duties be taken from them and given to another worker, even though the individual remains employed under the title, which details duties taken from them?

Post 2

@MrMoody - Yes, those kinds of legal agreements are quite common in the software industry. Just remember that if they ask you to sign that stuff, it’s because there’s a reason. As software developers know, copying trade secrets is the easiest thing in the world to do.

Post 1

There is another very important aspect of scope of employment. It basically defines how much of what you do the company legally owns. For example, in one of my first software jobs, I had to sign what seemed like fifty pages of documentation with a bunch of small print. What the documents were basically saying was that the company owned everything I created on the job, every idea, every concept, every invention, etc.

I signed the documents because I needed the job, but I knew there was no practical way the company could own every concept I ever came up with while working there. I guess this was legal protection on their part, since as an employee I would be privy to company trade secrets. They wanted to make sure I didn’t wind up stealing their ideas, or worse, building a better mousetrap and competing with them.

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