White Paper:  Risk Management Implications of Off-Campus Classes

Off-campus classes fall under several categories: classes held in the instructor’s home, field trips, or classes held at other locations. Perhaps there are other scenarios.   The University’s instructors are protected for their negligent acts, while in the course and scope of their actions in conducting classes, regardless of location.   These actions may include teaching, selecting the location or arranging transportation.

There is one distinction having to do with location, that is not a factor for campus classes, and that relates to the physical surroundings.   For classes on campus, should someone be injured as the result of the University’s negligence in maintaining the grounds or buildings, the University would be responsible for any resulting liability claims.   However, if a class were held off-campus, the owner of that facility would be responsible for any bldg/grounds issues, i.e. broken hand railing, slippery floor, etc.   This would include the homeowner (instructor?) or landlord if a class were held in an instructor’s residence, or the owner of a restaurant or other meeting location.

There may also be accessibility issues in an off-campus location and it is critically important that the instructor keep that in mind in selecting a location.   If a home is not accessible, that may not be an appropriate off-campus location.

Another issue is that of transportation to the designated location.   Every effort should be made to offer transportation options, including public transit.   Putting students in the position of having to beg a personal ride from a friend, or using their own vehicle, is not appropriate if that is the only option of getting to the destination.   The same principles should apply to off-campus classes, as apply for field trips.   Either public transportation should be available, or the department should offer transportation arranged and funded by the department.

If the selected location happens to be a restaurant or a home, there may be food or beverages involved.   Clearly alcohol is not appropriate, and UW (Purchasing) catering policies would apply to any food service paid for with University funds. Refer to http://www.bussvc.wisc.edu/purch/ppp10.html to review the actual Catering Policy.

There may be homeowner’s policy issues if the instructor uses his personal home and they should consult their insurance agent for clarification if this becomes a routine situation.  Owner’s of other types of meeting facilities (i.e. churches) may request evidence of the University’s insurance and that is something Risk Management can provide, upon request to the Director.  

Instructor’s are covered by Workers Compensation in the course and scope of their teaching activities, regardless of location. However, it is conceivable that there could be questionable scenarios with home-based classes.   Questions regarding specific issues should be directed to the Work Comp office at Employee Compensation and Benefits Services.

Prepared by:  Jeanine Critchley, former Director, Office of Risk Management
September 15, 2004