The Seaman’s Protection Act and Retaliation

April 8, 2021

Those who work at sea are often forced to work in historically dangerous conditions. Fortunately there is recourse for any fisherman who is required to work in unsafe conditions, though many are not aware of these rights.

In short, the Seaman’s Protection Act 46 U.S.C. §2114 (SPA) enacted by Congress in 1984 protects a seaman from a variety of dangerous workplace activities and vessel owner practices. Seamen, including fishermen, who are required to work in unsafe conditions have the right to refuse to do so and also to report, for instance, safety violations, to the federal government, primarily either the United States Coast Guard or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Doing so, as well as many other activities a fisherman might employee to protect him- or herself, are considered protected activities under the Act.

The Act also provides that vessel owners cannot retaliate wrongfully against fishermen for exercising these rights.  If they do, they are subject to a number of penalties, including having to pay the fisherman’s legal fee and costs and, in certain circumstances, will be ordered to pay punitive damages. Check out this report in “WorkBoat” that demonstrates what happens when the SPA is enforced.