Special Privileges Afforded to Seamen under Maritime Law
A seaman enjoys special rights under the law that are not afforded to other employees, such as the right to receive maintenance and cure if injured while in service of a vessel and the right to sue their employer in tort under the Jones Act. However, many employers are unaware if their employees are actually seamen.
Two-Part Test for Seaman Status
The U.S. Supreme Court established a two-part test for seaman status in Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995). First, an employee’s duties must “contribute to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission.” To determine if this requirement is met, it is important for employers to keep written records of each employee’s job title, job description, and job duties.
Second, the employee must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable “fleet” of such vessels) that is “substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.” Courts apply a 30% rule of thumb when analyzing this requirement. In other words, if an employee spends more than 30% of his time working on or from a vessel or fleet of vessels, a substantial connection likely exists. For this reason, it is important for employers to keep written records of the hours that the employee works on vessels, land, and platforms. Employers should also keep record of the names, owners, and operators of each vessel an employee works on or from.
When analyzing the second prong of the Chandris test, courts also look at whether the employee is regularly “subject to the perils of the sea.” The principal inquiry here is whether the employee owes allegiance to a vessel (or fleet or vessels), or if he is merely a land-based worker with a transitory or sporadic connection to a vessel in navigation. Allegiance to a land-based employer—as opposed to a vessel—can be illustrated if employment records show that the employee worked on many different jobs for many different customers/clients.
In sum, finding out if your employee is a seaman requires a multi-part inquiry. Seaman status can be more easily determined if employers keep detailed records of the employees’ work histories.
Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.