Employment Law Guide
Chapter: Longshore and Harbor Workers'
Updated: September 2005
Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act
(33 USC §
901 et seq.; 20 CFR
Parts 701 to 704)
The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) provides for
compensation and medical care to employees disabled from injuries that
occur on the navigable waters of the United States, or in adjoining
areas used in loading, unloading, repairing, or building a vessel. The
Act also offers benefits to dependents if the injury causes the
employee's death. The term "injury" includes occupational disease
arising out of employment.
The Act covers workers employed in maritime occupations, including
longshore workers or other persons in longshore operations, and any harbor
workers, including ship repairers, shipbuilders, and shipbreakers. The Act
excludes the following individuals if they are covered by a state workers'
compensation law: office employees, certain retail and service employees, small
vessel workers and individuals engaged in repairing certain recreational
vessels, and masters or members of a crew of any vessel.
Employers of covered employees are responsible for insuring the payment
of compensation and medical benefits to injured employees. Private
insurance carriers or employers who are authorized by the Department of
Labor (DOL) to become self-insured provide this insurance. While a Special
Fund administered by the Department of Labor may pay benefits in certain
circumstances, authorized insurance carriers, and self-insured employers
fund most benefits under the LHWCA. The Department’s Employment Standards
Administration’s (ESA) Office of Workers'
Compensation Programs (OWCP) administers the Act.
In addition to longshore and other maritime workers, the LHWCA covers a
variety of other employees through several extensions to the Act. The District
of Columbia Workmen's Compensation Act (enacted in 1928 and repealed effective
July 26, 1982) provides benefits for employees in private employment in the
District of Columbia who sustained injuries or illnesses as a result of
employment prior to July 26, 1982. (Workers injured after this date are provided
for under a workers' compensation act administered by the District of Columbia
Also, the Defense Base Act (1941) covers employees of U.S. contractors
outside the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii, while the
Nonappropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act (1952) provides for benefits for
civilian employees of post exchanges, service clubs, etc. of the Armed Forces.
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (1953) provides coverage to employees of
private industry conducting certain operations on the Outer Continental Shelf of
the United States.
An injured employee is eligible to receive compensation for disability
at the rate of 66 2/3 percent of the employee's average weekly wage, subject to
the specified maximum in effect at the time of injury, for as long as the
effects of the injury continue. Compensation is also available for permanent
impairment of specified limbs and organs and to replace loss of earning
Benefits are paid to a widow or widower, or other eligible survivors, at
the rate of 50 percent of the national average weekly wage as determined by
Secretary of Labor, applicable at the time of injury, or the employee's full
wage, if less.
The maximum compensation rate is 200 percent of the current national
average weekly wage as determined by Secretary of Labor, applicable at the time
of injury, or the employee's full average weekly wage, whichever is less.
Current benefit levels are found at www.dol.gov/esa/owcp/dlhwc/nawwinfo.htm.
Within 10 days from the date of an employee's injury or death, or 10
days from the date an employer has knowledge of an employee's injury or death,
including any disease or death proximately caused by the employment, the
employer must furnish a report to the district director for the compensation
district in which the injury or death occurred, and thereafter furnish
additional or supplemental reports as the district director may request.
No report is to be filed unless the injury causes the employee to lose
one or more shifts from work. However, the employer must keep records
containing the following information: (1) the name, address, and occupation of
the employer; (2) the name, address, and occupation of the employee; (3) the
cause, nature, and other relevant circumstances of the injury or death; (4) the
year, month, day, and hour when, and the particular locality where, the injury
or death occurred; and (5) such other information as OWCP may require.
Every employer shall maintain adequate records of injuries sustained by
employees, including information on the disease, other impairments or
disabilities, or death relating to the injury. Employers must make such records
available for inspection by OWCP or by any state authority, and they should
retain records for three years after the date of injury.
Employers must secure insurance for workers' compensation coverage under
the Act, either through an authorized insurance carrier or by obtaining
approval to self-insure from OWCP. To self-insure, the employer must furnish
OWCP with proof of his or her ability to pay compensation directly and deposit
security in the form of an indemnity bond or negotiable securities.
Once insurance has been obtained, the employer may request a certificate
from the district director in the compensation district where he or she has
operations, showing that payment of compensation has been secured. Only one
certificate will be issued to an employer in a compensation district, and it
will be valid only during the period for which the employer has secured such
When an employer obtains insurance through a private insurance carrier,
the employer's obligation to pay monetary benefits and provide medical benefits
is binding on the insurance carrier.
The employer or insurance carrier must pay compensation payments
periodically, promptly and directly to the person entitled to benefits under
An employer may apply to OWCP for an exemption to coverage by certifying
a particular facility as one engaging in building, repairing, or
dismantling of small vessels exclusively and not receiving a federal
maritime subsidy. (Small vessels are defined as commercial barges that
are under 900 lightship displacement tons (long) or a commercial
tugboat, towboat, crewboat, supply boat, fishing vessel, or other work
vessel that is under 1,600 tons gross.)
Once a facility is certified, injuries sustained there would not be covered
under the Act except for injuries which occur over the navigable waters of the
United States, including any adjoining pier, wharf, dock, or facility over the
land for launching vessels. A facility otherwise covered under the Act remains
covered until certification of exemption is issued. This exemption from coverage
is not intended for use by employers whose facilities are used exclusively to
work on small vessels.
The Special Fund was established so that, under certain circumstances,
the employers liability is limited if an employee has a pre-existing
permanent partial disability. In these cases, benefits are paid from the
Special Fund after 104 weeks. For OWCP to make this determination, the employer
must request limitation of its liability and file a fully documented
application with OWCP as soon as the claimant's condition becomes known or is
an issue in dispute.
An employer may not discharge or in any manner discriminate against an
employee because he or she has claimed or attempted to claim compensation, or
has participated in a proceeding under this Act. This prohibition does not
prevent discharge of or refusal to employ a person who has been found to have
filed a fraudulent claim for compensation or who has otherwise made a false
statement or misrepresentation.
If an employee or his or her survivor(s), or an employer or insurance
carrier, disagrees with a recommendation of OWCP, a formal hearing may be
requested before an administrative law judge. The administrative law judge's
decision may in turn be appealed to the Benefits Review Board. Appeal from the
Benefits Review Board's decision may be taken to the U.S. Court of Appeals and
finally to the U.S. Supreme Court.
To obtain additional information, contact the nearest
Division of Longshore and Harbor
Workers’ Compensation office. Further
compliance assistance can be obtained from OWCP’s
DLHWC (Longshore) Web site or by
contacting the Department’s Toll-Free Help Line at 1-866-4-USA-DOL.
If any installment of compensation payable without an award is not paid
within 14 days after it becomes due, an additional 10 percent will be added to
the unpaid installment. OWCP can waive the additional 10 percent payment if the
employer contacts OWCP and explains why the installment payment was late. The
employer must also contact OWCP whenever it begins or suspends payments.
OWCP may suspend or revoke the authorization of any self-insurer.
Failure by a self-insurer to comply with any provision or requirement of law or
regulations, failure or insolvency of the surety on his or her indemnity bond,
or impairment of financial responsibility are deemed good causes for suspension
Any employer who fails to secure coverage by authorized insurance
carriers or by becoming an authorized self-insurer is subject, upon conviction,
to a fine of not more than $10,000, or by imprisonment for not more than one
year, or both.
Any employer who discriminates against an employee may be subject to a
penalty of not less than $1,000 or more than $5,000, and may be required to
restore that employee to his or her employment along with all wages lost due to
the discrimination unless that employee is no longer qualified to perform the
duties of the employment.
Compensation benefits received under other state or federal compensation
laws for the same injury are offset against benefits paid under the Act.
The Employment Law Guide is offered as a public resource. It
does not create new legal obligations and it is not a substitute for the U.S.
Code, Federal Register, and Code of Federal Regulations as the official sources
of applicable law. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information
provided is complete and accurate as of the time of publication, and this will
continue. Later versions of this Guide will be offered at
www.dol.gov/compliance or by calling our Toll-Free
Help Line at 1-866-4-USA-DOL (1-866-487-2365).