The Jones Act is a law that gives rights to seamen as described by the law and determined by court cases. If you are a seaman, this law gives you the right to sue your employer if you are injured, you meet all the qualifications, and you can meet the low burden of proof that your employer’s negligence contributed to your accident. Getting this compensation can be a big relief if you are injured, have medical bills, and are unable to work for a period of time. Unfortunately, not all workers will qualify under the Jones Act. Whether or not a contract worker qualifies depends on many factors.
Contract workers are not always included in all the rights that an employee has, but there are exceptions. The Jones Act does provide for independent contractors who are not officially employed by the owner of a vessel, but are working there under contract, in certain situations. If you are working as an independent contractor and not an employee of a vessel and you have been injured while working on it, you may have rights too. It’s important to understand what those rights are and exactly whether or how you qualify under the Jones Act so that you can get the compensation you need.
Jones Act Seaman Qualifications
The Jones Act is specifically for seamen, not just any kind of maritime worker. Seamen are maritime workers, but you can also be a maritime worker and not qualify as a seaman. For example, longshoremen are maritime workers, but not seamen. There are specific factors that allow you to qualify, or not, as a seaman under the Jones Act.
If you are an independent contractor you still have to meet the requirements of a seaman as described by the law. This means you must contribute to the working of a vessel and that you must spend at least 30 percent of your working time aboard that vessel. You must have been injured aboard a vessel that is operable and in navigation on navigable waters, such as the ocean, a river, or lakes connecting two or more states.
Independent Contractor Defined
Employers in all industries may turn to independent contractors as a way to save money. Employees working full time must be given benefits, and while there are many benefits to having full-time employees, they are costly. An employer or ship owner may hire contract workers for shorter periods of time or to get specific jobs completed and to save money by not paying for benefits like health insurance.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, what distinguishes an independent contractor from an employee is the degree to which the employer or payer of the worker is able to direct the work. In other words, an employer can direct an employee as to how exactly to do his or her job. An independent contractor cannot be directed in that way. He or she is self-directed. The person paying the contractor can only control the outcome, not the process.
Independent Contractors and the Jones Act
All seamen working as employees who meet the qualifications under the Jones Act are entitled to the rights guaranteed by the law in the case of injury on the job. Contractors are often included as well, though, depending on the situation. The contractor must be employed by someone, but that employer does not have to be the owner of the ship. The employer may have been contracted by the owner of the ship to provide workers.
There is a “borrowed service doctrine” that allows for contractors to be considered seamen under the Jones Act. The seaman may work aboard a vessel and be employed by an independent contractor rather than the owner of the vessel. In other words, there has to be an employee-employer relationship, but the employer need not be the owner of the vessel.
Contractors under the Jones Act, if they meet all the qualifications, can sue the ship owner for compensation in a negligent injury, even though the actual employer is someone else. Each case is different, though, and the court may decide if a contracted seaman really has rights under the Jones Act based on various factors, like how much the ship owner supervised and directed the work of the contractor.
Contract Workers Excluded by the Jones Act
As stated above, each case is different and each Jones Act claim has to be considered independently. It is possible for an independent contractor to qualify under the Jones Act and the burden of proof of an employer-employee relationship is on the seaman. One of the main reasons that a contractor may be excluded under the Jones Act is if he or she works largely independently on the vessel and does not report to a supervisor or manager for direction. This indicates a contractor style of working as opposed to employment.
If you are an employee aboard a vessel and are injured due to the ship owner’s negligence, it can be difficult to navigate the rules of the Jones Act to determine if the right to sue for compensation under the law. If you are not an employee, the situation is only murkier. To best determine your qualification and how to prove your status as a working seaman with an employer, you need the expertise of a Jones Act lawyer to guide you through the process.