Generally, an employer is liable for its employee’s actions while the employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment. Activities such as traveling to and from work are considered to be outside the scope of employment, and therefore, employers are not liable for employee actions during commutes. This is known as the “going and coming” rule. The rationale for this rule is that the employee is not providing a benefit to the employer during the commute so the employer should not be liable.
However, employers should be familiar with the exceptions to this general rule when requesting services from employees, because the California Supreme Court has stated that any reasonable doubt as to the applicability of the going and coming rule should be resolved in the employee’s favor. The exceptions include that an employer may be found liable if it requires an employee to drive a car to work for any benefit of the employer or if it requests an employee to run an errand even off of the clock for the benefit of the employer.
The California Court of Appeal recently considered a case where carpooling employees caused a car accident while driving from an out-of-town job site to a hotel. In this case, the employees were responsible for their own transportation to and from the job site and elected to carpool with each other. The court held that because the ride sharing was personal in nature and not required or encouraged by the employer, the employer was not liable for the accident caused by the carpooling employees.
While the employer in this recent case was not held liable, it serves as a reminder to employers that expressly or impliedly require employees to use a vehicle or ask employees to run a special errand will likely be responsible for accidents arising from these situations.