One of the first and most common thoughts river workers have after an injury on the job is that the company might fire them. Even though injuries are painful and can be frightening and embarrassing, for many people, the thought of termination is the worst.
As someone whose job is working on a vessel on America’s waterways, federal law says you have rights under the Jones Act to have your injury dealt with the right way.
And retaliating against people for exercising their rights under federal law is itself a serious violation.
Retaliation not okay under the Jones Act
In many ways like workers’ compensation coverage for land-locked workers, mariners covered by the Jones Act have a right to living expenses while you recover and needed medical treatment resulting from a job-related injury.
And you have a right, even an obligation, to be honest and complete when you file your injury report.
The Jones Act also protects a mariner’s right to file a lawsuit in good faith against the employer for any negligence the contributed to the injury.
These are some of your rights under the Jones Act and retaliating against you for exercising your rights is also a violation of the Jones Act.
Retaliation also banned by Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA)
SPA protects seamen against retailiation for a variety of lawful acts, including having “notified, or attempted to notify, the vessel owner or the Secretary of a work-related personal injury or work-related illness.”
But consider a dramatic recent example of the federal government acting when a company punishes a worker for excursing their rights.
In 2017, an explosion near Port Aransas, TX, killed two workers on a petroleum barge. Of course, the U.S. Coast Guard launched an investigation for which they spoke to workers and other witnesses.
Three months later, the barge company fired one of those workers, specifically the brother of one of men killed. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concluded that the termination was in retaliation for talking to the Coast Guard.
OSHA’s preliminary order is for the company to pay the man back pay and losses to his 401(k), two years of lost wages, at least $50,000 for pain and suffering and other damages, and at least $200,000 as punishment (punitive damages).