If you work on a U.S. government project abroad, you’ve heard of the Defense Base Act, which is a federal workers’ compensation program. It provides medical, disability and death benefits to civilian employees working outside the U.S. on a military base or under contract with the U.S. government for defense or public works projects.

Like traditional workers’ compensation, Defense Base Act coverage is typically provided through an insurance policy purchased by the employer. Or, certain employers can obtain authorization to be self-insured for this coverage.

It’s uncommon, but not unheard of, for employers to fail to purchase Defense Base Act coverage from an insurance carrier. If that happens, are there any remedies? Or is the worker simply out of luck?

There are penalties and extra remedies when the employer fails to obtain coverage

Employers who fail to secure payment of Defense Base Act claims through insurance or self-insurance could face criminal prosecution. In fact, when the employer is a corporation, corporate officials including the president, treasurer and secretary can be prosecuted. This could result in their being held liable for the compensation and other benefits, along with their paying fines and/or spending time in prison.

There’s another remedy when employers fail to secure Defense Base Act coverage, however — an ordinary lawsuit under general tort law. In such a lawsuit, the employer doesn’t get to use certain traditional defenses. They don’t get to claim that the worker was injured through their own negligence or wrongdoing. And, the award doesn’t get reduced if the employee contributed to the cause of the injury.

The upshot? Even in the rare case that your employer doesn’t have Defense Base Act coverage, you still have legal options. Talk to an attorney about your situation and discuss what comes next.