Travel nursing cancelled shift

Travel Nursing Salary: Penalties for Missed Shifts and Cancelled Shifts

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Missed shifts and cancelled shifts are a regular occurrence in travel nursing. However, there is much confusion regarding the impact of missed shifts on travel nursing salary. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact that different agencies handle missed shifts in different ways. Understanding the factors at play and the various scenarios that can transpire will help travel nurses plan an effective strategy to stay ahead of the issue.

Difference between missed shift and cancelled shift

First, it’s important to understand the difference between missed shifts and cancelled shifts. Missed shifts occur when the traveler cancels a shift, regardless of the reason the shift is cancelled. Now, we can all agree that there are some instances that are more justified than others for cancelling a shift. For example, cancelling with a flu is more justified than cancelling to attend the George Michael concert (I had that happen once). Nonetheless, both are classified as missed shifts.

A cancelled shift occurs when the cancellation originates with the hospital. Hospitals can cancel shifts for any number of reasons. However, they most commonly cancel shifts for low census. While this isn’t a regular occurrence, it happens often enough to have an impact on every traveler at some point or another.

How do Cancelled and Missed Shifts Affect Travel Nursing Salary

The agency’s perspective

Of course, one of the biggest concerns for travelers pertains to the impact that cancelled and missed shifts have on their pay. To fully understand this, we must understand the agency’s perspective. For starters, agencies generate revenue by billing hospitals for the hours that their travelers work. If the hours aren’t worked, then the agency doesn’t get paid.

Additionally, agencies base the compensation package for each assignment on the revenue they expect to generate for the assignment.  And the revenue they expect to generate is a function of the number of hours to be worked and the amount that they’re able to bill per hour, commonly called the bill rate.

As a result, agencies break down every single pay variable to an hourly value. So even though your lodging stipend may be paid weekly, your agency knows how much it’s worth per hour. And this is even true for cost variables that you don’t even see. For example, if the agency incurred compliance and credentialing costs for the assignment, then they know how much these items cost per hour. Finally, agencies base all of their compensation calculations on the understanding that all hours will be worked.

Calculating the cost of missed and cancelled shifts

Why is this important? Well, when calculating the cost of missed and cancelled shifts, the agency will turn to these hourly values. For example, if the agency is providing the traveler’s lodging at a cost of $2000 per month on a 13 week contract for 36 hours per week, then they’ll calculate the cost of housing at $12.82 per hour. Each component is broken down to an hourly value so that the agency has one common unit of measurement to track their costs.

Missed hours and cancelled shift contract clauses

In an effort to control costs, almost every agency includes a clause in their contracts that covers missed hours and/or cancelled shifts. These clauses are designed to hold the traveler accountable for the costs associated with the un-worked hours. Now, there is a huge difference between missed hours and cancelled shifts that certainly impacts whether or not travelers should be held accountable for the costs.

Missed hours are initiated by the traveler. Therefore, a fair argument can be made that they are the traveler’s responsibility and therefore the traveler should be held accountable. However, cancelled shifts are not initiated by the traveler. Therefore, it’s far more difficult to make an argument that the traveler should be held accountable in any way. However, some agencies do indeed hold the traveler accountable for cancelled shifts while others do not.

Whether or not the traveler is held accountable for cancelled shifts is often tied to the guaranteed hours policy in the contract. For example, if the contract guarantees 100% of the contracted hours, then a traveler should be paid in full if a shift is cancelled. If the contract includes a more standard clause that allows the facility to cancel 2 to 3 shifts per 13 week contract, then some agencies hold the traveler accountable for cancelled shifts while others do not.

It’s important to note that contracts can be worded ambiguously on this issue. So you may read a contract and think that you won’t get deductions for cancelled shifts when in fact the opposite is true. Therefore, it’s important to clarify this issue with your recruiter if it is important to you.

Additionally, you should inquire about the hospital’s policies regarding shift cancellations. For example, some hospitals don’t consider it a cancellation unless they do not offer you an additional shift. So they may cancel you on a scheduled Tuesday and tell you that they need you to work a shift on an unscheduled Thursday. If you decline the Thursday shift, then they’ll consider it a missed shift instead of a cancelled shift. You’re agency may be willing to accommodate you, treat it as a cancellation and pay you per the contract. However, many agencies match their policies to those of the hospital in question in order to protect themselves. So be on the lookout for this issue.

How are costs recovered?

When looking at your contract, it’s also important to note how the costs will be recovered by the agency and how much they will deduct. There are essentially two categories of compensation variables to consider when it comes to this issue. The first variable can be referred to as “pay” and the second variable can be referred to as “benefits”.

The pay variable includes any compensation component that is paid to the traveler on a weekly basis or as a part of their normal paycheck. For example, the hourly rate and the M&IE stipend are a part of the pay variable. If the traveler is taking the lodging stipend instead of company housing, then the lodging stipend would also be considered part of the pay variable.

Recovering these costs is typically straightforward. Basically, if the hours aren’t worked, then the payments aren’t made. However, agencies do have different ways of describing this in their contracts. Some agencies will break all of these components down to an hourly figure in the contract, essentially stating that they’re paid hourly.

Other agencies will have a clause that compiles the hourly value of the pay components and states that this value will be deducted for each hour missed. For example, they may add the hourly value of each pay variable to arrive at a total deduction of $32 per hour. In this case, when you receive a pay stub, you’ll notice that the full payments are actually added to your pay, but there will be a  deduction to offset the payment. Either way, the end result is the same; you only get paid for the hours you worked.

The benefits variable may include any other cost that the agency incurs for the specific contract and decides to attribute to the traveler. For example, medical benefits, the travel stipend, company provided lodging, rental cars,  and the cost of credentialing among other variables may be included in the benefits variable.

Different agencies will define this in different ways by choosing to include different components. Typically though, the cost is compiled into one total hourly value and placed in the contract. Additionally, this cost is recovered by making a deduction from the traveler’s paycheck. For example, you may see a clause that stipulates the agency will deduct $27.35 for every hour that the traveler misses in order to cover costs associated with services.

This practice seems to generate a lot of confusion. For example, many travelers are under the impression that the value of the deduction represents only the cost of housing. However, this is rarely the case. It usually includes the value of multiple variables. In fact, it’s quite common to see a deduction value even when you’re taking the lodging stipend. In this case, the deduction will be much smaller, but there will be a deduction value nonetheless.

Additionally, many travelers recommend taking the lodging stipend based on the notion that you will incur large deductions for company provided housing if you miss hours. However, there is ultimately no difference because even if you take the stipend, then it will be reduced by the value of the missed hours. So it’s essentially a wash.

Finally, many travelers and recruiters will claim that an agency cannot legally make these deductions from your paycheck. While we are not lawyers and this is not legal advice, we did contact the California Labor Relations Department. They informed us that they defer to federal law on this issue which states that deductions can be made if they are agreed to in the employment contract prior to starting the job. And this holds true for both missed shifts and cancelled shifts.

Making up the hours

It’s always possible to make up missed hours or cancelled shifts by picking up additional shifts in the future. However, it’s also important to ensure that your contract stipulates that you will be made whole if you do make up the shifts. In other words, the agency should pay you just as they would have had the hours been worked originally. And, if the agency made deductions, then they should reimburse those deductions if the hours are made up. Of course, they’ll also need to pay for any applicable overtime hours in case working the makeup shift qualifies for overtime.

Finally, it’s especially important to review your pay stubs to ensure that everything is correctly entered for weeks that you made up shifts. This is not a normal pay scenario so there is much room for oversight and error.

We hope you find this information useful. As always, we’d love to hear about your experience with this topic or any questions you may have. Please post them in the comments below!

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2 replies
  1. betty says:

    I have been cancelled by the hospital 3 shifts over the last 3 weeks. I had told my manager that I could work any nights. I’m only paid 2/3 of my housing stipend but this is no fault of my own. Is there any recourse? Never was spelled out in contract.

    • Kyle Schmidt says:

      I’m sorry to hear about this difficult situation, Betty, but thanks for sharing. There are really two separate issues here as I see it. First, there is the question of whether or not you can get all of your pay for the cancelled shifts. Typically there is a clause in your contract with the agency regarding guaranteed hours. Different agencies handle guaranteed hours in different ways. Here is an article that provides more details on the subject. In most cases, if you are cancelled more than a specified number of hours, then you are supposed to be paid your entire pay package. However, if there is no clause at all, then you may not be able to hold the agency or hospital accountable for paying up.

      Second, there is the question of the stipend money. Almost every agency handles stipends the same way you’ve described. They dock it when hours aren’t worked. This is because they aren’t able to bill for the hours, so they’d be taking a big loss if they paid it. There is some debate over whether or not it’s actually allowable for agencies to dock the stipends when shifts are cancelled. This is because the stipends are supposed to be reimbursements for costs incurred while traveling away from home for work. Docking the stipends when shifts are cancelled could be viewed by the IRS as treating the stipends like they are wages instead of reimbursements. After all, the costs are incurred whether you work or not. This is referred to as wage recharacterization. Again, this is debatable and most agencies do in fact dock the stipends when hours are missed or cancelled.

      If the agency isn’t willing to work with you, then your only recourse may be through legal channels. I wish I had better news, but I hope this helps!

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