As a crew member working for a cruise line, if you have an employment dispute, you must first determine what law applies to your situation. Many cruise lines register their ships in foreign countries whose laws favor the cruise lines in most, if not all, types of employment relations. U.S. maritime law may apply to a crew member dispute with a cruise line employer in some circumstances. There are likely also terms in your employment contract that will affect your dispute.
In many situations, getting the overtime pay you deserve requires a detailed understanding of international, maritime, foreign, and even state laws. The legal team at Louis A. Vucci P.A. has extensive experience assisting crew members with their legal needs, including those related to their employment contracts. At Louis A. Vucci P.A., we offer capable and aggressive legal representation to crew members when cruise line employers violate the terms of their contracts, including the failure to pay overtime. Call (786) 375-0344 today or contact us online to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
Cruise Ship Crew Contracts
Unless you have special skills to offer a cruise ship, you have very little leverage when negotiating your employment contract. When it comes to the specific terms of the contract, a cruise ship employee must “take it or leave it.” The cruise line uses a form agreement for most jobs aboard the ship that favors the cruise line in almost every situation.
While an exception may exist for the employment contracts of some crew members, employment agreements between cruise line employers and crew members almost always include a provision that states the job is “at will.” This arrangement favors an employer since it allows a cruise line to fire you at any time without cause.
If the cruise ship company terminates you when it owes you overtime pay, you have a right under your employment contract to receive this compensation. You have a right to any overtime pay, despite the fact that the contract gives the cruise line every advantage. A cruise ship attorney can provide valuable guidance, advice, and knowledge to help you level the playing field against a cruise line. An attorney can also investigate whether you have any other potential claims under your employment contract.
The Right to Overtime Pay
Determining whether you have a right to overtime pay begins with defining overtime pay. This complex analysis differs depending on whether U.S. law or some foreign or international law applies.
Considerations if You Work for A Cruise Ship Subject to International or Foreign Law
Cruise lines rarely register their ships in the U.S. because they want to avoid the broader and stricter safeguards U.S. maritime law provides. Cruise ships register in locations like the Bahamas because their laws do not provide the same protections for workers as U.S. wage-and-hour laws.
Cruise lines can legally subject workers to living and working conditions that meet lesser standards than those required by federal law. Wages on foreign ships are usually below the U.S. minimum wage.
Most cruise lines, through their affiliation with a trade association known as the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), adhere to the Maritime Labour Convention (“MLC”). CLIA members include Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Royal Caribbean International. Countries of a ship’s registration must also comply with the MLC. It is important to note that the United States has not signed onto the MLC.
The MLC gives crew members the right to regulated work and rest hours. The MLC specifies permitted hours of work as either maximum hours of work or minimum hours of rest. Work days under normal circumstances should not exceed eight hours, and there should be one rest day per week. For “non-normal” workdays, the maximum hours of work must not exceed 14 hours in any 24-hour period and 72 hours in any seven-day period. In turn, a worker must enjoy minimum hours of rest of not less than 10 hours in any 24-hour period and 77 hours in any seven-day period.
Cruise ship companies should pay overtime to employees working beyond their normal hours. But in effect, foreign cruise lines might try to require employees to work 72 hours a week before paying overtime. In practice, foreign cruise lines often require employees to work ten-hour days, seven days a week, and conveniently fail to pay overtime.
Unfortunately, many cruise lines still fail to abide by the mandatory time and attendance policies required by the MLC. Contact a cruise ship attorney immediately if your employer fails to meet these requirements and owes you overtime pay.
Considerations if You Work for a Ship Subject to U.S. Law
If a cruise ship is subject to U.S. law, such as the many ships that belong to American Cruise Lines, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) likely applies to any overtime dispute.
More importantly, the FLSA requires that employers pay overtime when an employee works more than 40 hours a week. Employers must pay overtime at least 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate.
However, the FLSA exempts seamen from overtime pay, which means that cruise lines are not required to pay cruise ship workers subject to U.S. law any overtime pay. A “seaman” under the FLSA is any person who spends at least 80% of their time performing work closely related to the vessel’s operation as a means of transportation. If a worker does not meet the definition of a seaman, a cruise line worker may have the right to overtime pay under U.S. maritime law.
One underlying policy of the exemption for seamen is that maritime law has traditionally considered working more than 40 hours a week at sea as an acceptable norm, distinct from most other ordinary forms of employment.
While federal law under the FLSA may not permit you to receive overtime pay, you may have a right to compensation for other losses your cruise line employer has caused you to suffer. Your employer must still abide by the terms of your employment contract.
How Cruise Lines Shield Themselves from Liability
Cruise lines aim to limit their liability to employees. A cruise line, like any business, will pursue this goal, whether it is in regard to an employment contract dispute or an employee accident.
Cruise lines insert arbitration clauses as boilerplate language in most, if not all, of their employment contracts to minimize their legal exposure. Both foreign and U.S. cruise line companies use this as a standard tool in all employment contracts.
Seafarer rules apply when a written employment agreement between a seafarer/crewmember and a cruise line/ship owner contains an arbitration provision for any claim or dispute. Cruise ship industry regulators have designed these rules to justly and efficiently resolve disputes.
While the stated purpose of these rules is to ensure the integrity and neutrality of the dispute resolution process for all participants, this is not always true in practice. Cruise lines play a significant role in choosing who acts as an arbitrator and decides any case involving an overtime dispute.
Cruise ship companies also use forum selection clauses that dictate where a crew member must file a contract claim against the cruise line. Claims against ships under U.S. jurisdiction typically require plaintiffs to file their claims in Miami, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
In addition to forum selection clauses, cruise line employment contracts between a cruise line and crew member often contain a choice of law provision. This critical contract term states the law a court or arbitrator must apply when resolving any claim or dispute between a cruise line and crew member. Courts generally uphold both forum selection and choice of law clauses as enforceable unless you can show that enforcement is unreasonable, overreaching, against public policy, or related to a fraudulent act.
How Louis A. Vucci P.A. Can Help
As a crew member on a cruise ship, you likely do not benefit from U.S. law’s standard protections and safeguards. An experienced cruise ship attorney can determine which foreign and international laws apply to an overtime dispute and your best options for maximizing the chances of success in your case.
Louis A. Vucci P.A. has the skill and experience to help you pursue the compensation you deserve in any situation involving a cruise line employer. Although you may have few rights in theory as a cruise ship employee, you still have the right to sue your employer when they fail to follow the terms of your employment contract. An attorney experienced in preparing and presenting cases before an arbitrator will also give you the best chance of receiving unpaid overtime.
Contact an Attorney Experienced in Representing Cruise Line Workers
If your cruise ship employer refuses to pay you for overtime work that you performed, the Louis A. Vucci P.A. can help. We dedicate ourselves to helping cruise ship employees and passengers recover compensation for the harm that cruise lines cause. Call Louis A. Vucci P.A. at (786) 375-0344 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.