Working on the open water is highly dangerous, regardless of what exact career you have. Whether you work on a barge or have a career as a longshoreman, your place of employment is risky, and the tasks you perform for your job drastically increase the potential for a serious injury.
Given that you likely work for a company or at least a vessel based in the United States, you might assume you have protection under domestic workers’ compensation laws for any potential injury or illness you develop related to your work.
However, because your job takes place outside of the United States on the open ocean, workers’ compensation and other protections for terrestrial workers may not apply to you. Instead, you may need to rely on the Jones Act if you get hurt at work or develop an illness because of your maritime career.
What is the Jones Act?
The ocean and coastal cities have always played major roles in the economy of the United States. As worker protections began to expand at the beginning of the 20th century, those employed at terrestrial factories suddenly had protections from workplace hazards and in the event of a catastrophic, disabling injury. Those working at sea, however, were still left vulnerable to the risks of their employment.
Lawmakers sought to address the gap between domestic laws and businesses operating out on the ocean. Thanks to the passage of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the federal government helps to regulate commerce and employment on the open ocean. The Jones Act is part of the Merchant Marine Act, specifically Section 27.
The Jones Act provides those who work on ships with protections in the event that they get hurt as part of their job. The Jones Act makes it possible for an injured maritime worker to secure compensation for a workplace injury or illness by holding their employer or even the captain of the ship accountable.
Securing compensation under the Jones Act is complex
Filing a workers’ compensation claim on its own is a difficult process, but when the worker injured works out at sea, connecting with that compensation can be even more difficult than a workers’ compensation claim. It is common for workers to misunderstand what rights and protections they actually have.
Some people in business object to the Jones Act, as they see it as protectionist legislation that makes the cost of shipping more expensive for domestic companies. However, no company should have the right to abandon workers who get injured as a result of performing their duties.
Any employer should have a reasonable obligation to provide insurance or financial protection for their staff if they wind up disabled through the performance of their job. The Jones Act helps ensure that maritime workers don’t get left behind in favor of corporate profits.