At the intersection of wage-and-hour and maritime law are the FLSA’s “seaman” exemptions: the exemption from minimum wage and overtime codified at 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(12) and the overtime exemption codified at 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(6). These exemptions often are confused or collapsed with the definition of a “seaman” for purposes of the Jones Act, separate federal legislation regulating maritime activities relating to coastal shipping. See generally Pacific Merchant Shipping Ass’n v. Aubry, 918 F.2d 1409, 1413 (9th Cir. 1990). The seaman’s exemption to overtime is concerned principally with whether the individual’s work is in aid of a vessel “in navigation.”  In a recent decision analyzing the exemption, a Louisiana federal court found a question of fact as to whether an electrician employed in a nautical setting was such an employee. Trosclair v. Offshore Marine Contrs., Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84535 (E.D. La. June 19, 2012).

Plaintiff Trosclair was an electrician for a number of Defendant’s “jack-up” vessels (also called lift-boats), a fleet providing “the petroleum industry with a fully equipped vessel and for use in oil and gas exploration, plug and abandonment jobs, and other various activities in the Gulf of Mexico.” However, Plaintiff also provided electrical maintenance services to Defendant’s “hunting camp, houseboat, and its shop in Cutoff, Louisiana.” 

Defendant urged that Plaintiff was properly classified as a seaman because he was at all times “subject to the authority, control, and direction of the captains in the fleet; that [he] was responsible for the maintenance of electrical equipment as required for the safe operation of the vessel; and that [he] was ‘at all times’ assigned to Offshore Marine’s fleet of vessels.” Trosclair countered that his work was that of an electrician which could have been performed anywhere and did not have a sufficient relationship to the movement of the boats in navigation. Simply put, he argued that his work could have been just as easily performed on shore. The court denied summary judgment to both parties, finding that the “inherently fact-based determination as to whether or not Trosclair is a seaman exempt from the FLSA’s overtime wage requirements must await trial..” 

“As highlighted by this new decision, the determination of whether an individual is a ‘seaman’ for purposes of the FLSA exemption does not end simply because the employee works on the water,” observes Jackson Lewis attorney and maritime practitioner Catharine Morisset. “It is an individualized assessment that must be performed on a case-by-case basis, examining many factors, such as whether the employee performs duties in aid of a vessel in navigation, and the proportion of time spent on those duties during each workweek.”

As we have recently discussed, numerous “industry specific” exemptions to the FLSA’s overtime requirement are codified at 29 U.S.C. § 213(b). Application of each of these exemptions is specific to the language of the statutory provision in question, and should be applied only following consultation with counsel. As always, that analysis then must be harmonized with applicable state law(s).