frolic and detour

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Frolic and Detour is a phrase describing actions taken by an employee that fall in varying degrees outside of the scope of employment. Generally, a “detour” constitutes a minor departure from an employee’s duties but is still considered acting within the scope of employment, whereas a “frolic” would be a major departure from the scope of employment undertaken for that employee’s own benefit.

The phrase originated in Joel v. Morison, an English case from the 1800s, which clarified that a master is liable for actions a servant takes stemming from a master-servant relationship (now known as an employment relationship) where a servant takes a “detour” while acting in the scope of employment, but is not liable where a servant goes on “a frolic of his own” that exceeds the scope of employment. The Frolic and Detour language is still cited in cases such as O’Connor v. McDonald’s Restaurants which invoke the doctrine of respondeat superior to assess the extent of an employer’s liability for an employee’s actions under tort law.

Additionally, an employment relationship is considered suspended during commutes to and from a place of employment as there is no service rendered during this time, so Frolic and Detour is not typically implicated in these circumstances.  

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]