Like any employee, crew members are not immune from being terminated. But termination on a cruise ship is a bit different from being fired at a regular job. It’s like being fired and kicked out of your apartment all at once.
Better known as the "6 AM knock," crew members wake up to the ship’s security officers, banging at their cabin door, and delivering the news that the crew member must leave the vessel immediately.
Within about an hour, the terminated crew member must gather all of his or her personal belongings, hand in the ship cards, pay-off any shipboard debts, and walk off the gangway. In most cases the crew member is are not given any explanation as to why she is being instructed to leave. A meeting is not set up with their superiors or the captain discussing the grounds for termination. Worst of all, the fired crew member doesn’t even know what legal rights she has in this kind of situation (that’s assuming there are any rights at all).
Typically once a crew member “rocks the boat," the cruise line finds a way to dispose of the problem immediately. All it really takes is aggravating the right people or protesting unfair treatment. Alcohol and drug tests are a good tool cruise lines use to make a case to fire a crew member. Most cruise lines have an alcohol and drug policy that allows them to conduct random tests. Security knocks on the crew member’s door, and hands the employee a little plastic bottle for urine testing.
This is all done while the security officers wait outside the bathroom located in the crew member’s cabin. If this isn’t invasive enough, the bathroom door must remain open just a crack to ensure that the crew member doesn’t taint the sample. Can you feel the trust?
Interestingly, the results of these tests are never given to the crew member. It is not even clear where the sample goes once handed to the security officers. It is important to point out that I am writing from personal experience here. I have also spoken to several other crew members who were terminated and their stories are pretty much on par with my experience.
On any given night a hundred crew members could fail such a test, but the tests are often reserved for those who are vocal in criticizing procedures or who complain about sexual harassment or unlawful conduct.
What happens once the crew member walks off the gangway? Cruise lines tend to terminate a crew member when the ship is docked in a non-U.S. port. Although the flight is arranged and paid for by the cruise line, the crew member is rushed off the ship and sometimes has to board the flight in less than 2 hours. Once the crew member is off the gangway, they are no longer the cruise line’s responsibility. If the crew member misses her flight, she has to pay out-of-pocket for a new ticket.
Employment on cruise ships is considered "at will" employment, meaning at the will of the employer. There is a saying in the cruise industry that a crew member can be terminated for good cause, bad cause or no cause. Maritime legal rights are virtually non-existent when the crew member is terminated.
Cruise lines don’t like problems. They don’t want crew members who will “make waves.” As soon as a crew member is labeled as a “problem,” they can expect a knock on the door around 6:00 AM.
This blog was written by Danielle Gauer who worked as a dancer for several years on cruise ships prior to embarking on her university studies. She is currently completing her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and will be sitting for the Ontario, Canada Bar admission examinations this June.
Prior to law school, Danielle (middle, with Jonathan Aronson left, and Jim Walker right) was the recipient of the Ryerson University Gold Medal and H.H. Kerr Memorial Scholarship for high academic standing.
You can read Danielle’s prior guest blogs below: