In most cases, the first week of your travel nursing contract will go exactly as anticipated. You’ll spend the entire week orienting to the new facility. Or, you may have an orientation day or two and then be off on your own providing patient care for the remainder of the week. However, sometimes travel nurses will wind up short on hours for the first week of their contract. This can leave many wondering why this happens and what recourse they have.
Background on travel nursing orientation hours
Most hospitals have a consistent track record of ensuring that their first week of orientation provides the contracted number of hours. Some facilities falter from time to time. And for some strange reason, some hospitals have a track record of shorting hours during the first week of the contract.
A hospital may schedule two 8 hour shifts and one 12 hour shift during orientation. This leaves you short 8 hours. We’ve also seen hospital schedule for three eight hour shifts or two 12 hour shifts. Both of these scenarios leave the traveler short by 12 hours.
Perhaps these hospitals don’t grasp the fact that every hour counts for both the nurse and the agency. In fact, each missed shift is typically worth 2%-3% of the total income you stand to make on the contract. So missed hours can add up very fast.
Guaranteed hours clauses and travel nursing orientation hours
Of course, contracts typically include clauses that guarantee a certain number of hours per week and we’ve discussed guaranteed hours at length in a previous blog post. To recap, guaranteed hours clauses exist to protect both the traveler and the agency from the hospital cancelling shifts. Nurses need to get paid and agencies need to cover their expenses.
Guaranteed hours clauses come in many different forms. Some guarantee every hour of the contract. Some allow the hospital to cancel a specified number of hours per contract. Therefore, it’s extremely important to review the guaranteed hours clause in contracts so you know what to expect.
It’s also important to remember that the contract is between you and the agency. So it’s possible that the contract between the hospital and the agency has a different guaranteed hours clause than the contract between the agency and the travel nurse.
The bottom line is that many guaranteed hours clauses do not cover every hour of the contract. This means if the hospital cancels hours, then the agency won’t get paid. Therefore, the agency technically won’t have the money it was counting on to be able to pay the nurse.
Different agencies will handle this in different ways. As mentioned above, some agencies will match the hospital’s guaranteed hours clause with the guaranteed hours clause in the contract. So if the hospital is allowed to cancel a certain number of hours, then you should be aware that you won’t be getting paid if you’re short hours during the orientation week, assuming you properly reviewed the contract.
However, some agencies maintain a standard guaranteed hours clause in all their contracts that simply guarantees all hours. Some agencies that take this approach will stand by their word and pay the hours even when they’re not getting paid. Others will refuse to pay. This is the scenario that is most troubling for travelers.
What recourse do travel nurses have to deal with short first week orientation hours?
Hospitals shorting first week orientation hours is a common enough occurrence that travel nurses should always inquire about it during their interview. Simply ask about the orientation schedule and how many hours they anticipate your working the first week. If you find that you’ll get less than the contracted number of hours, then take the matter up with your recruiter prior to signing the contract to determine how the agency will handle it. Chances are that you’ll get something worked out.
If you find yourself with an agency that doesn’t live up to it’s contractual obligations, then let your recruiter know that you’ll be filing a claim with the state labor relations board if all else fails. In the vast majority of states, your contract is good as gold and the presiding officer will most certainly rule in your favor. And often times, the mere mention of filing a case with the labor relations board is all it takes to get your agency to honor the contract.
As always, we’d love to hear about your experiences with this issue or field any questions you may have. Please post them in the comments section below.