Why Stay Home on a Snow Day?

Or more directly, “Why not go to the College of Law on a Snow Day?” First, a disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this post is not intended to provide legal advice to any individual. It is intended to provide general information.

Putting aside the common sense realization that travel is dangerous in conditions such as we have today, with snow and ice on the road, nearly record low temperatures, and irregular service from transit providers and restaurants, there is a legal reason for an employer such as UC to implement a policy that tells employees and commuter students to stay away.

For employees, eligibility for workers’ compensation relief requires that the employee’s injury occur while the employee is acting “within the scope of employment.” If the employee has been instructed to stay home by an official declaration within the employer’s policies, then the employee who nevertheless reports to the workplace is quite arguably acting outside the scope of employment. Hence, if the employee is injured on the way to or while at the place of employment, a workers’ compensation claim is likely to be denied.

For commuter students, a claim against the university would be based on the theory of negligence. Negligence requires that the actor failed to act reasonably, such as by failing to perform a duty that could be reasonably expected. By declaring a snow day, the university is informing the public, including its commuter students, that it may not be able to meet its duty to provide a safe environment for their presence on campus. It is meeting its duty to reasonably act to provide a safe environment by admitting that it may not be able to so provide, and hence the public should stay away. Visitors who have been so informed and nevertheless come to campus are arguably “assuming the risk.” Assumption of risk is one well-known defense to an action based on negligence.

Now that you are a little more familiar with the legal effects of a snow day declaration, you can factor in the legal risks as well as your own common sense in reaching what should be an easy decision: Stay Home!

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