In general, employers are responsible for the actions of their employees. This is
respondeat superior, or the master-servant relationship, a term that dates the
origins of the concept. More generally, liability for actions of others is called
vicarious liability. MCOs are responsible for the actions of both physician and
NPP employees. As discussed above, this responsibility is not affected by
ERISA. Physicians who employ NPPs and others in their own offices will also be
vicariously liable for their employees’ actions, as long as these actions are in
the course and scope of their employment. This rule poses two questions, Who
is an employee? And what is the course and scope of employment?
Although it is commonly assumed that employment status is determined by
how a person is paid, this is only one of several factors that are considered.
Even unpaid volunteer workers may be classified as employees for the purpose
of vicarious liability. The usual focus is on payment because most disputes
about employment status involve the tax laws rather than the tort laws. The
whole work situation is considered when determining whether there is
vicarious liability for a person’s actions.