The Defense Base Act Providing Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Civilian Contractors Overseas

When you’ve been hurt on the job in the United States, you typically file for workers’ compensation benefits under the applicable state workers’ compensation law or under FECA (the Federal Employee Compensation Act). But what if you or someone you love has suffered injury while working as an employee for a federal government contractor on an American military base overseas, or on a public works project in another country? Congress acknowledged this loophole back in 1941 and enacted the Defense Base Act, extending all of the benefits available to injured workers under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (the “LHWCA”) to individuals working on a U.S. military base or public works project overseas.

The Benefits Available under the Defense Base Act

Under the LHWCA , an injured worker can collect up to 2/3rds of the difference between the worker’s “Average Weekly Wage (AWW)” at the time of injury, and the worker’s actual weekly wage after the injury. If the injury prevents you from being gainfully employed, you are entitled to receive benefits that equal 2/3rds of your AWW. On the other hand, any income you have after the injury will offset the amount you receive in workers’ compensation payments. In addition, there’s a cap to the benefits you can receive, and that cap is periodically adjusted to address inflation.

What is the “Average Weekly Wage”?

According to the statute, benefits are calculated based on the employee’s wages as of “the time of injury.” Where a worker has been with the contractor for one year or more, the AWW is simply the average weekly wage for the last 52 weeks. If a worker has been employed for “substantially the whole of the year,” the AWW will be the total wages divided by the number of weeks worked. For workers with limited duration contracts, or who are injured shortly after starting work, the calculation becomes more difficult, with employers often arguing for inclusion of pre-employment wages in the calculation.

Contact Uliase & Uliase

At Uliase & Uliase, we have decades of experience representing federal workers in work-related injury claims. To schedule an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 856-310-9002. We will meet with you weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Even if we don’t take your case, we will only charge a $35 consultation fee. We waive the fee for certain union members.