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US Case law: Adams v All Coast, No. 19-30907 (5th Cir., February 11, 2021)

News & Insights 23 March 2021

Key words: Jones Act

In Adams v All Coast, workers hired as able-bodied seamen on a liftboat sought overtime pay in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), claiming that they were not exempt from overtime because they were not 'seamen.' The workers did not contest their status as Jones Act seamen, rather they contested their status as seamen for purposes of the FLSA. 

The workers performed two distinct jobs: (a) traditional maritime and nautical duties some of the time and (b) operating a crane to move personnel and equipment between the liftboat and the dock, offshore worksite platforms and other vessels. A point of focus for the Court was the fact that the two distinct jobs did not overlap. 

In a collective action, the workers argued that their main job was crane operation, which had nothing to do with the operation of the vessel as a means of transportation.  The class was joined by cooks working aboard the liftboat. 

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the main question to determine if a worker is a Jones Act seaman for the purposes of FLSA is whether the primary purpose of the individual’s work is the safe navigation of the ship. The Court further held that the actual duties performed by an employee, rather than the classification assigned by the employer, control whether the employee is eligible for overtime pay under the FLSA. In this case, although the plaintiff was classified as a seaman by his employer, his assigned duties were almost exclusively crane operation. 

The definition of seaman in the Jones Act is not equivalent to that in the FLSA. The two acts are separate and independent of each other. While the Jones Act interprets seaman broadly to maximize the scope of the remedial coverage, the exemptions under the FLSA have been drawn narrowly to minimize the number of employees who lose the Act's protections. 

Considering this new judgement, carefully drafting employment contracts and job descriptions as well as keeping a watchful eye on the actual duties that are being performed by employees will be the key for determining the status of Jones Act workers. 

Link to judgement here.

Category: Caselaw

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