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Understanding the difference between ‘detour’ and ‘frolic’

Workers’ compensation claims can sometimes involve work-related activities that an employee was engaged in outside of the actual workplace. The act that an employee was engaged in when they were injured, however, needs to be either directly authorized by the employer or related to activity that the employer authorized.

Two terms that are sometimes used in workers’ comp and employer liability are “detour” and “frolic.” Which one of these describes an employee’s actions can determine whether the employer can be held responsible. Let’s look more closely at both.

Detour

This is when an employee doesn’t explicitly follow a directive from their employer but is still following their instructions closely enough that the employer bears responsibility for an injury.

For example, say that a company provides its sales reps with cars to use when they’re on the road visiting customers. They require those reps to call in to weekly conference calls, even if they’re literally on the road. The phone is in the dashboard, so it’s hands-free.

However, while on the call, an employee gets distracted while talking, listening or even trying to jot something down and is involved in a crash. The employer could be held responsible since the sales rep was trying to comply with all of their work-related obligations — even if they should have joined the call from somewhere other than their car.

Frolic

In that same scenario where a sales rep is on the road in a company vehicle, they get a call in their car from their teenager who is upset that their other parent isn’t extending the curfew for just one hour. In arguing with their child, the employee crashes the car into a guardrail.

While that’s certainly not “frolicking” in the literal sense, in the legal sense it may be. The employee was on a personal call that had nothing to do with their work. They employer may have no legal liability.

Increasingly, employees are working from places other than their office. If your employee is injured while working but they weren’t doing something you instructed them to do, you may bear no responsibility. If you believe that an employee’s worker’s comp claim or legal action is unwarranted, it’s wise to talk with an experienced attorney.