Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a Federal law that provides benefits to longshoremen, harbor workers, shipyard employees and other non-seaman marine workers who are hurt, crippled, or develop work-related illnesses while at work on navigable waters or adjoining facilities in the U.S. Workers protected by LHWCA are eligible to receive compensation to pay medical costs, recovery from injuries or illness, and lost wages. In general, the LHWCA protects maritime workers who are not covered by the Jones Act.

The United States Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) manages the LHWCA through its Division of Longshore Workers’ Compensation. Presently, around 500,000 disabled or injured maritime workers are covered by LHWCA. This includes Outer Continental Shelf employees and contractors hired by the U.S. government to work overseas.

What are the Basic Benefits Under LHWCA?

Any employee covered under LHWCA is entitled to temporary benefits while undergoing medical treatment for job-related injuries. These benefits typically equal two-thirds of an individual’s average weekly pay. LHWCA-approved medical expenses include doctor visits, surgery, prescription medicines, crutches, nursing assistance, prostheses, hearing aids, and other services or devices necessary for recovery. Once the treatment is complete, LHWCA can either provide compensation for injured body parts or two-thirds of their lost wage earning capacity. If a maritime worker dies as a result of the injury, survivors’ benefits are available.

Who is Covered Under LHWCA?

The LHWCA protects maritime workers who work in various non-seaman occupations. The majority of these workers are employed in ports, harbors, and shipyards on or near navigable waters under U.S. jurisdiction..In addition, the LHWCA also covers certain employees who work on oil rigs and other offshore facilities on the Outer Continental Shelf. Per the OWCP, the LHWCA covers:

  • Harbor construction workers
  • Longshore worker
  • Ship repairers
  • Shipbuilders
  • Shipbreakers
  • Waterfront crane operators

In order to qualify for compensation under LHWCA, an employee’s on-the-job injury must take place on navigable waters of the U.S., or in facilities located either on or near them. These facilities can include piers, docks, terminals, wharves, or any area where ships are loaded or unloaded. Others who aren’t employed in marine work may also be covered by LHWCA if they are injured while working on navigable waters.

Longshore Act Extensions

Over the years, Congress extended LHWCA coverage to an array of other employees through a series of extensions to the original law. The first extension, known as the District of  Columbia Workmen’s Compensation Act, was repealed in 1982, but there are still three statutory extensions in effect:

  • The Defense Base Act
  • The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
  • The Nonappropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act

The Defense Base Act covers individuals hired by outside contractors to work in U.S. government facilities outside the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act extends LHWCA coverage to workers from private enterprises engaged in certain offshore tasks on the U.S.-controlled part of the Outer Continental Shelf. In addition, the Nonappropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act extends coverage to civilian employees of military post exchanges, recreational facilities, and social clubs.

Who is Not Covered Under LHWCA?

The LHWCA does not apply to all maritime workers. Its scope of coverage is limited and excludes various groups of marine-related employees, including:

  • Seamen (crew members and masters of any vessel)
  • U.S. Government employees
  • Employees of any foreign government
  • Employees who were injured because they were intoxicated
  • Employees who deliberately injured themselves or others

The LHWCA also excludes certain employees if they are already covered by state workers’ compensation plans. These workers include:

  • Persons employed exclusively to carry out office clerical, secretarial, data processing, or security tasks
  • Employees of camps, restaurants, clubs, museums, retail stores, or recreational operations
  • Marina employees who do not participate in constructing, replacing, or expanding such marina.
  • Temporary workers in a maritime company
  • Employees of transporters, suppliers, or vendors
  • Aquaculture workers
  • Workers hired to build, repair, or dismantle recreational vessels less than 65 feet in length or have displacements less than 18 tons net
  • Workers on small vessels exempted by a certificate from the Secretary of Labor under certain circumstances

Employers’ Obligations

If a maritime worker is injured on the job, the employer must report the lost-time injury to OWCP within 10 days to avoid being penalized. The employer must also provide the injured worker with the necessary document to file a claim. This is usually  the standard LS-201 form published by OWCP. In addition, an employer must allow the worker to independently choose a physician to provide medical treatment if the injured worker doesn’t want to be treated by an insurer- or company-affiliated doctor. However, the employer has the right to ask the worker to sign a “choice of physician” form before approving the worker’s request to see a physician of treatment

Appeals Process in LHWCA Disputes

If the injured worker or any other party disagrees with any OWCP recommendation regarding claims or benefit payments, a formal hearing in front of an administrative law judge may be requested. If the employee, employer, or the insurer disagrees with the judge’s ruling, the next step is to appeal before the Benefits Review Board.If the appeal fails to solve any conflict with an LHWCA claim, recourse may be sought by appealing to U.S. Circuit Courts or the Supreme Court of the U.S.