The Basics Of Workers’ Compensation On Alaska’s Waters

By Justin S. Eppler

The waters in and around Alaska are alive with fish, fowl and workers. Working on the water is almost always a dangerous profession, but there are laws meant to help you if you’re injured doing one of Alaska’s maritime jobs.

Workers’ Compensation Is Insurance

Most employers are required to buy workers’ comp insurance so you don’t have to pay the medical costs of on-the-job injuries. If an injury leaves you unable to work for a while, worker’s comp will usually also pay lost wages.

States set rules for most private companies insuring workers for on-the-job injuries. But the federal government sets workers’ comp rules on ships registered by the United States.

Jones Act and Sick or Injured Seamen

The Jones Act applies to seamen, defined as workers who spend at least 30 percent of their work hours on a “vessel in navigation” documented to be an American ship.

Under the Jones Act, if you’re injured working on the river or on the high seas, your wages and transportation costs must be paid until the sea voyage is complete. Afterwards, you must be paid for your “maintenance and cure,” meaning enough money to get along while you’re recovering and for your medical treatment until you’ve recovered as fully as possible.

Sick or Injured Workers Who Aren’t seamen

A federal law also protects workers on inland and surrounding US “navigable waters” who aren’t covered by the Jones Act.

The law is called the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. If you’re a longshore worker, build or repair or break ships, or work in harbor construction, your employer is probably also required to cover you in ways similar to Jones Act protections.

The Alaska Fishermen’s Fund

Many workers making their living on American waterways don’t exactly fit the definitions in the Jones or Longshore and Harbor acts.

Because many of Alaska’s fishing boats don’t counts as documented U.S. ships, and due to the many injuries, illnesses and fatalities in one of Alaska’s most important industries, the state has set up a special fund to cover care and treatment of commercial fishing workers.

The Alaska Fishermen’s Fund is financed by commercial fishing license and permit fees. To be compensated by the fund, you must either be an Alaska-licensed commercial fisherman or have a permit.