Liability of the Federal Supervisor

What are the areas of liability for me as a Federal supervisor and what are some of the most important general points I need to be aware of relating to this liability?

There are three areas of liability that the federal supervisor should be aware of:

  • criminal,
  • civil and
  • administrative.

At any time, a supervisor can be held liable for one, two or all three depending on the situation. For example, if you ran a red light and hit someone else’s car while driving a government vehicle and you were delivering materials as part of your job, you could potentially be held liable in all three areas.

In criminal terms, you could receive a fine and lose your license, because you broke the law by running the red light. Criminal law operates on the premise that you should be punished for your actions so you won’t repeat them.

In civil terms, the victim may sue you to “be made whole” for the damages you inflicted and to return them to where they were prior to the accident.

Administratively, you may be given a letter of warning, suspended or terminated depending on the severity and the consequences of your actions.

The most important factor in liability relates to whether or not you were acting within the “scope of your employment”. In other words, were you doing what you were supposed to be doing (and how you were supposed to be doing it) as called for in your position description? If you depart from that scope of employment, you significantly increase your own personal liability and the government may no longer represent you or assume responsibility for your actions in your place (“substitution” through the “Theory of Agency”).


If there is a work sponsored party going on and someone who attended the party has a DUI/DWI or an accident on the way home, could the supervisor be held accountable? What if it is a personal party and there are lots of work folks there?

Although alcohol cannot be served at government-sponsored events held on government property, nothing prohibits an off-site celebration where employees can purchase their own alcohol. If an employee attends an off-site event and does consume too much alcohol and is later arrested for a DUI/DWI or has an accident, the Service could face a liability issue. The specific legal issues are generally dictated by state law, however any such event would have a negative impact on the public’s perception of the Service and the Federal government as a whole.

Here are a few suggestions that may lessen the liability issues:

  • Hold alcohol-free parties and emphasize the Service's commitment to preventing drinking and driving. Provide plenty of nonalcoholic alternatives.
  • If you must serve alcohol, limit the amount of alcohol available to each person or the time frame in which alcohol is served. Provide transportation or designated drivers.

If the party is at an employee’s home, the same state laws would apply. There have been a few criminal cases recently where the person who provided the alcohol was held accountable for the actions of the impaired person. Anyone hosting an event where alcohol is served should pay close attention to their guests and offer alternative rides if they are impaired.