On 22 November 2022, the Supreme Court handed down a judgment on the connection between the rules in the Mandatory Wages Act and the rules in the Ship Labour Act on the obligation to pay in case of illness.


The case concerned an employee who was employed as a receptionist for Hurtigruten. The employee called in sick and had been absent from work since 28 June 2019. As a result of the covid-19 pandemic, Hurtigruten temporarily laid off a large number of employees in March 2020, including the receptionist who had reported in sick. The question was whether Hurtigruten still had an obligation to pay wages to the receptionist during the period when he did not receive benefits from the Norwegian national social insurance scheme.

According to section 4.4 of the Ship Labour Act, employees who work on board Norwegian ships are entitled to pay for up to one year in the event of illness. According to this provision, the receptionist was entitled to wages until 27 June 2020. However, the employer refused the receptionist's wage claim, believing that the wage obligation had lapsed upon the temporary layoff. The employer referred to section 3 of the Mandatory Wages Act, which exempts the employer from the obligation to pay in the event of temporary layoff after an employer-financed period of 15 days.


The question for the Supreme Court was how the two sets of rules should be coordinated. It was not possible for the employee to have a claim to wages under the Ship Labour Act but not have a claim to wages under the Mandatory Wages Act.

The Supreme Court concluded that the Ship Labour Act's rules on sick pay had to take precedence, so the employee was successful in his wage claim.

The Supreme Court referred to the wording of section 4.4(1) of the Ship Labour Act which states that the one-year wage obligation in case of illness applies "as long as the person is employed". The Court pointed out that the person is still employed in the event of temporary layoff where the parties are only temporarily released from their obligations following the employment agreement.

At the same time, the Supreme Court found that the rule in section 3 of the Mandatory Wages Act, which exempts the employer from their "obligation to pay", also applies to wages in the form of sick pay. Therefore, neither of the provisions by themselves answered the question of whether the receptionist was entitled to pay.

However, the Supreme Court emphasised that the Ship Labour Act is a protective law that cannot be waived to the detriment of the employee. Temporary layoff, on the other hand, is an instrument that should give companies the opportunity to get through difficult economic times. In the view of the Supreme Court, the Ship Labour Act's purpose and character, being a social protection law, dictated that the employee should be entitled to wages.

The Supreme Court also referred to an International Labor Organization convention on seafarers' working and living conditions, which stipulates that the employer must have a minimum responsibility for wages for seafarers who become unable to work as a result of illness or injury. Section 4.4 of the Ship Labour Act implements this convention. The Supreme Court therefore believed the consideration of fulfillment of the convention dictated that the rule on the obligation to pay should take precedence.

For further information on this topic please contact Ole Kristian Olsby or Mari Vindedal at Homble Olsby | Littler by telephone (+47 23 89 75 70) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Homble Olsby | Littler website can be accessed at www.homble-olsby.no.