Employees who work at shipyards or city ports—or on tankers, oil rigs or similar locations—are often wrongfully denied overtime wages which they are legally entitled to receive. The employers typically argue that the employees are not entitled to overtime under the “seaman exemption” to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). However, the employer is not always right. And with the long hours often required in this line of work, the denial of overtime wages can result in employees being cheated out of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages which they are owed.

There are various positions which may result in employees being denied their overtime wages. By way of example, it can include workers on docks, tankers, shipyards, and oil rigs. For industrial work, it may include those who perform dredging, forestry or lumbering services. In terms of construction, examples include those who build docks, levees or other types of structures and buildings. Despite employers arguing otherwise, these categories of employment often do not qualify for the “seaman exemption. And when the exemption does not apply, the employees who work in these fields may be legally entitled to receive overtime pay at the rate of time-and-one-half (1.5).

Section 13(b)(6) of the FLSA provides an exemption from overtime pay for “any employee employed as a seaman.” The federal regulations interpreting the FLSA provide:

 An employee will ordinarily be regarded as “employed as a seaman” if he performs, as master or subject to the authority, direction, and control of the master aboard a vessel, service which is rendered primarily as an aid in the operation of such vessel as a means of transportation, provided he performs no substantial amount of work of a different character. This is true with respect to vessels navigating inland waters as well as ocean-going and coastal vessels.

29 C.F.R. § 783.31.

When deciding whether an employee is “employed as a seaman,” the duties of the employee must qualify as “service which is rendered primarily as an aid in the operation of such vessel as a means of transportation.” Id. Employees who make repairs to vessels between navigation seasons would not qualify as seamen. 29 C.F.R. § 783.33.

An employee may be regarded as “employed as a seaman” if the work performed as a whole meets the test stated in 29 C.F.R. § 783.31, even though during the workweek the employee performs some work of a nature other than that which characterizes the services of a seaman, if the amount of such other “non-seaman’s” work is not substantial. 29 C.F.R. § 783.37. Such differing work is typically considered “substantial” when it occupies more than 20 percent of the time worked by the employee during the workweek. Id. Because the workweek is the unit of time used in determining the applicability of this exemption, the workweek is the period of time used in determining whether a substantial amount of non-seaman’s work has been performed so as to make the exemption inapplicable. 29 C.F.R. § 783.49.

If you believe you have been wrongfully denied your earned overtime, you could have a significant claim against the company for unpaid wages. The exact value of your claim will vary depending on a number of factors. If you are interested in learning more, please contact our law firm to speak with an attorney.