Travel nursing pay packages are complicated compared to the average pay package. As a result, processing payroll is more complicated for travel nursing companies than it is for most other companies. This means there are more pitfalls that can result in paycheck errors. So in this blog post, we’ll provide 7 tips for avoiding and resolving travel nursing paycheck errors.
What Makes Travel Nursing Payroll Complicated?
There are two main issues that make travel nursing payroll more complicated than usual. First, travel nursing companies aren’t able to maintain standardized time reporting for their employees. At most companies, every employee follows the same time reporting protocol. They use the same time cards, fill them out the same way and turn them into the same location.
Travel nursing companies on the other hand work with multiple clients each with their own time-card policies and processes. Some of them email time-cards to the agency using Excel spreadsheets, some fax time-cards, some have electronic systems that require the agency to login and download, and some require travelers to fax their own time-cards to their agency. The point is that the process of collecting time cards is a complete mess for agencies.
Second, each employee at the travel nursing company has a unique compensation package. At most companies, the payroll department is dealing with standard hourly rates, salaries, and the occasional bonus. Travel nursing companies are dealing with travel stipends, M&IE stipends, lodging stipends, missed-shift penalties, special overtime rates for extra hours, and many other issues. This all means that there is a lot more room for human error.
With all that in mind, there are things that travelers can do to minimize the chance of errors, but there are also things they should know about holding the agency accountable when errors are the agency’s fault.
Avoiding Travel Nursing Payroll Errors
#1: Know Your Travel Nursing Contract Compensation Stipulations
Speaking from experience, I can assure you that errors occur that never get caught by travelers or the agency. And these errors go both ways. In fact, I once had a traveler get an additional $700 per week for their entire 13 week contract because the travel stipend was set to be a weekly payment instead of a one time event!
That said, it’s important to know what you’re due and when it’s due to be paid. This goes for extra-time pay rates, penalties, travel stipends and bonuses. All compensation items should have clear terms regarding how much will be paid and when it will be paid. This includes bonuses that are offered by the hospital. It’s important to check your paychecks to make sure that these payments are made on schedule.
If an agency misses one of these payments, it’s clearly their fault. However, if you want to add extra strength to your ability to hold them accountable, then you can set calendar reminders to go off in advance to alert you when various one-time payments like travel stipends and bonuses are due. Then, send your recruiter a quick reminder that the payment is coming due.
#2: Adhere To The Facility’s Time-Card Policy
As mentioned above, different facility’s handle travel nursing time-cards in different ways. It’s important to learn the facility’s process at the very beginning of the each contract in order to ensure that things run smoothly. This is especially true when the agency pays weekly because the agency has a very small window to get your time-card in.
#3: Adhere To The Agency’s Time-card Policy
Almost every agency has a time-card policy that is separate from the hospital’s policy. Agencies maintain these policies in order to circumvent problems they have experienced with their client hospitals. For example, hospitals routinely send time-cards to agencies at the last-minute or late. So agencies may require that you send a copy of your time-card to them on a weekly basis in order to get started on the payroll process.
#4: Keep Your Own Time-card
It’s a great idea to keep your own time-card even if your agency doesn’t require it. This is true even if the hospital uses an electronic time tracking system. It’s shocking how often these systems report time incorrectly and even more shocking how often the errors are in the hospital’s favor.
Send a copy of your time-cards to the agency on a weekly basis, preferably by Monday to give the agency enough time to deal with any conflicts or problems obtaining the time-card from the hospital. Hopefully, your agency will accept a photo of your time-card taken with your phone and emailed for your convenience. If not, invite them to the 21st century by telling them that it would make life much easier for you and the rest of their customers if they would allow this.
If you fill out your time-card correctly and take all the steps necessary to ensure that it is received by the agency on time, then it’s highly likely that any paycheck errors will be the agency’s fault. Different agencies handle their paycheck errors in different ways. My personal belief is that agencies should bite the bullet and do everything within their power regardless of cost to make the traveler whole as soon as possible. With that in mind, here are 3 tips for handling paycheck errors that are the agency’s fault.
#5: Use A National Bank For Your Travel Nursing Pay
A large percentage of the travel nurses I worked with used local or regional banks. I respect that because I love small businesses. However, it made it difficult to resolve paycheck errors as quickly as possible.
Smaller banks often take longer to process electronic transfers of all types. They tend to have more stringent hold periods on deposited funds. And of course, they rarely have physical branches in the agency’s vicinity so solutions that required a bank visit are out of the question.
Having a national bank account means that there are more options to resolve paycheck errors when they arise. They also make it easier for the traveler in general given that branches and ATMs are easily accessible no matter your location. And most national banks offer free checking accounts as long as you have a minimal direct deposit going into the account on a regular basis.
#6: Check For Paycheck Errors As Early As Possible
Discovering paycheck errors as early as possible and bringing them to the agency’s attention will ensure the quickest possible resolution. Additionally, some of the options available for resolving paycheck issues are time sensitive, so the earlier you bring issues to your agency’s attention, the more options they will have to resolve the issue quickly.
As a recruiter, I used to contact all of my travelers on Friday to check in and see how things were going. I did this on Friday because it was payday. I would check each traveler’s paycheck to make sure it was correct and I would do it first thing in the morning in order to ensure that I’d be able to resolve any errors the same day.
Unfortunately, travelers can’t count on this level of service from their recruiters. It’s rare for agencies to advocate or support such an approach.
Instead, travelers should check their own paychecks as early as possible. Many agencies have online paycheck reporting services that allow travelers to login and view their pay-stubs. It’s a good idea to learn how to access and use these systems at the outset. Many of these systems will post pay-subs late Thursday night for paychecks that are deposited on Friday.
If you work with an agency that doesn’t have such a service, then it’s a good idea to check your bank deposits on a weekly basis to see if there are any errors. In any case, let your recruiter know immediately.
#7: Know The Options Available To Resolve Travel Nursing Paycheck Errors
As mentioned above, each agency deals with paycheck errors in their own way. Some do everything in their power to resolve the issue and exhaust every option at their disposal. They accept full responsibility when errors originate with them.
Others act like there is nothing they can do, like they’re helpless and there are no options for resolving the issue immediately. Most travel nurses acquiesce to these lackluster service offerings because they are not aware of the options available. So, here is what every travel nurse should know about the options available to resolve a paycheck error.
1) ACH Transfers
Most agencies use a service that allows them to provide direct deposits for their employees. Direct deposits are conducted through the Automated Clearing House (ACH) system. This system processes electronic financial transactions in batches.
It typically takes anywhere from 1 and a half days to 3 days for an ACH transfer to be credited to the receiver’s account. For example, if the agency processes payroll by Wednesday afternoon/evening, then the deposit will be in the traveler’s account by Friday morning. As a result, agencies maintain a regular schedule for their payroll processing.
When a payroll error occurs, many agencies tell travelers that there is nothing they can do until their next regularly scheduled direct deposit. Essentially, these agencies do not want to perform any extra work to get the issue resolved. In my view, this is poor service because of course there are things that can be done to get the issue resolved sooner.
For starters, the agency can request their payroll processing service to run an ACH transfer off schedule. There may be a fee involved, but that’s the price of making mistakes.
If the agency offers this as an option, then it’s important to note that the deposit won’t show up in the traveler’s account for 1 to 3 business days. However, once the deposit is credited, the funds should be immediately available.
2) Wire Transfers
Wire transfers are the quickest way to electronically transfer money from one account to another. The money will be transferred through the Federal Reserve’s system. It should be credited to your account the same day as long as it is initiated by the cutoff time and it should not be subject to any hold periods. Most banks tell their customers that the cutoff time is 1:30 PM Pacific Time or 4:30 PM Eastern Time. However, this is the last possible moment that instructions can be received. So getting together with your agency on this as soon as possible is highly advised.
To initiate the wire, your agency will need to contact their bank and provide the wiring instructions for your bank account. You should check with your bank to verify the wire instructions. Typically, the instructions will include your name, the bank’s routing number and your account number. Smaller banks sometimes operate their wire transfers through larger banks in which case there will be “For further credit to” instructions. Either way, your bank will be able to provide the instructions.
Wire transfers are also the most expensive option available. Fees may be charged on both ends of the transaction. Therefore, it’s a good idea to ask your bank what the fees are for accepting a wire transfer to your account. Then, let the agency know to add that amount to the wire amount. Again, great agencies will take full responsibility for their errors.
3) Cash Deposits
A cash deposit is a great way to get money into a bank account quickly and without a hold. Simply put, a representative from your agency will walk into any one of your bank’s branches, fill out a deposit slip for your account and deposit the cash.
This might not be an option with the biggest travel nursing agencies. However, smaller agencies are more nimble and open to all options. In any case, it never hurts to bring this up as an option.
4) Cashier’s Checks
Of course, your agency may not have cash sitting around to cover all their payroll errors. Plus, dealing with cash is the safest way to handle money. Cashier’s checks are the next best option.
Cashier’s checks can only be obtained from a bank and the funds are guaranteed by the bank. Therefore, banks typically do not place holds on cashier’s checks when deposited. There is a nominal fee that your agency should have no problem covering. They can deposit the check directly to your account by walking it into a branch or have it over-nighted to you.
5) Money Order
Money orders are similar to cashier’s checks except they can be obtained from a variety of establishments including post offices and convenience stores. The money is provided up front to pay for the money order, but your bank may still place a hold on the funds because money orders are viewed as less secure than cashier’s check. I’m not sure why any agency would choose this as an option, but it is an option nonetheless.
6) Live Checks
Finally, the agency could cut a live check to resolve the issue. In this case, the agency will correct the error in their payroll processing system. Then, they will print a live check from the system.
This check can be walked into the traveler’s bank by an agency representative and deposited. It could also be over-nighted to the traveler. It’s important to note that the traveler’s bank will most likely place a hold on the funds while the check clears. Therefore, it’s possible that the traveler would have quicker access to the funds if they waited for the agency’s next weekly payroll run.
Each of these options offers potential for solving a paycheck error. If you’re agency offers no alternatives, then you can discuss each of these options with them in and effort to resolve the issue amicably. If the agency is unwilling to utilize any of these options, then you may want to consider the agency’s commitment to quality service when deciding on your next assignment. There are plenty of agencies out there that go above and beyond!
We’d love to hear about your experiences with this issue. Please post them along with any questions in the comments section below!