Negotiating Your Travel Nurse Contract

There are some things that you should know that will help you negotiate a travel nurse contract like a pro. Below are some suggestions about things you should talk about.

Never Rely on Oral Agreements.

A good contract lays out everything in writing so that there are no surprises or arguments as to who is responsible for what. When you are speaking to a recruiter from a company they might promise you the moon and stars, but in reality they have no authority to do so. Make sure everything you talk about with your recruiter is in writing.  If it isn’t in writing don’t expect the company to honor it.  

The contract is usually created by the company and it is what is given to the recruiters to use.  There may be some areas on the contract where a recruiter can write in amounts or exceptions.  If there are items that are added or taken away from the contract make sure that the representative from the company that signs the contract has authority to authorize those changes.  It is your prerogative to ask to speak to a supervisor to be certain that everything in the contract will be honored by the agency.

Clarify Meanings and Get Contract Specifics

Take the opportunity to ask your recruiter lots and lots of questions.  The only bad question is the one you neglect to ask.  

  • If a company offers tax advantage ask what is meant by this.  Don’t accept an explanation if you don’t understand it.  
  • If a company offers a guaranteed amount of hours a week, question them about their policy.  
    • Can you make up days if you are sick?
    • Will these days be added on to the end of the contract?
    • What if the facility cancels a shift? Two? Three? 
    • What is your responsibility if a shift is canceled?
      • Sometimes a company will only pay for one or two missed shifts. Get clarification! This particular topic is especially important during the current recession we are in.  Hospitals are more likely to cancel a scheduled shift if the patient census suddenly drops, and the first people that they cut are the travel and contract nurses.  It has been the recent trend for hospitals to only guarantee 36 hours a week.  If you would like more hours talk to your recruiter to make sure there are no problems with you picking up extra hours or working per diem shifts directly for the hospital or for another local agency.  The staffing agency may already have something in place.  It might be a good idea to see if there are any limitations placed on you in the contract concerning this.
  • What are your options if the hospital offers you permanent position?
  • What is the exact start date and End date of the assignment?  
  • If you are already in housing to start an assignment and the start date gets changed who is responsible for paying the housing expenses? What happens if the assignment gets canceled?
  • Will the agency pay for any expenses incurred related to this assignment?

Pay and Procedures

  • What is the exact pay rate per hour?
    • Overtime rate? On-Call rate?
    • Charge rate?
  • If there is orientation make sure you find out how much you will be paid for those hours and the length of the orientation.
  • How will you be paid? Weekly? Direct deposit?
  • How do you report your hours?
  • Do you fax in the time sheet?
  • Is there an electronic time tracking system?
    • If so, who will provide the training to use this?
  • Does your time sheet need to be signed?
  • Who does your time sheet have to be signed by?
  • What is the deadline to have timesheets in by?
  • Who do you contact if there is a problem with your paycheck?

Insurance and Benefits

Be sure to ask about insurance!

  • Is it provided? If so, do they have:
    • Medical?
    • Vision?
    • Dental?
    • Liability?
    • AFLACK?
    • When does the insurance become active?
    • Do you have to pay a monthly insurance premium?
    • Does the insurance cover family members?
    • How long can you go between assignments before they cancel the insurance?
  • If you already have medical insurance and are not going to need their insurance ask if they will pay you more per hour in lieu of being covered by their insurance.

Housing

When it comes to housing, it is always a good idea to clarify what type of housing they offer and what utilities are included.

  • How many bedrooms will it have?  
  • How many square feet is the unit?
  • What is the name of the apartment complex and the address?
  • Is it an extended stay hotel?
  • Will a kitchen be included?
  • Are you allowed to have pets?
  • Will you be required to have a roommate?
  • Is it furnished? If it’s furnished what exactly will be provided?
    • Furniture?
    • Dishes?
    • Linens?
  • Are cable, internet, phone, gas, and electric included?
  • Is parking available?
  • What other amenities are provided?
    • Laundry room?
    • Pool?
    • Exercise facility
  • Which floor is the unit on?
  • How far away from the hospital is the housing?
  • Is there a deposit? How much?
    • If you are traveling with a pet be sure to ask about pet deposits.
    • If you pay a deposit will you get this back and how long before you get that money?
  • How many days before the assignment start date can I move in?
  • How many days after the end of the assignment do I have before I have to move out?
  • Ask what your responsibility is concerning housing if your assignment gets canceled by the hospital. Are you required to pay for the unused portion of the month or lease?
  • What is their policy if you get to the housing they provided and you hate it or don’t feel safe? Keep in mind that if you are working for a national staffing company most of the time the agency has never seen the housing. The only thing they have to go on is feedback made by other travelers or by pictures.  Most agencies will move you if there is a problem with a unit, but be prepared to stay in a motel until they can find you something else.

Remember, you always have the option of setting up housing for yourself.  If you do decide to set up your own housing be sure to ask how much more per month the agency will provide? There may be a certain amount of money that they will give you per month instead of providing the housing.  Even if they don’t give you a per diem amount they may be willing to give you extra money because they don’t need to run the risk of signing a lease.  Keep in mind that if you are required to pay for your housing that it may be more expensive than what is normally charged. The reason for this is because of the shorter lease term.

Licensure, Testing, and CEU’s

You may also want to clarify what licensure, testing, and CEU’s they will pay for. Sometimes agencies make you pay for these upfront and then after you have worked a certain length of time on the assignment they refund you.  Most companies offer free CEU’s.  Are there specific tests or medical requirements for the job? Who pays for these? 

Travel Expenses

  • Who is paying the travel expenses to and from the assignment?
  • Are you expected to pay the travel expenses and get reimbursed?
  • If they reimburse you when will you get your money back?
  • What if the hospital cancels your assignment early?
  • Will they pay the travel expenses to get you to the next assignment or home?
  • If you are flying to your assignment make sure to ask them about transportation once you are at the assignment.
  • Will they pay for a rental car?  If you are responsible for paying for a rental car ask how it will be deducted from your pay.
    • Don’t forget to ask about insurance for the car.  You may want to check with your personal car insurance company.  Some companies do not cover rental cars.

Ask Hospital Specific Questions

It is equally important to know about the hospital you will be working in as it is to know about the agency.  Before you sign a travel assignment contract with an agency find out all you can about the hospital you will be working at.  There are a lot of forums where travel nurses post their experiences at specific hospitals.  Some hospitals are just friendlier towards travel nurses than others.  Specific questions you may want to ask are:

  • Who will be your nurse supervisor? You should also find out if you will be required to float to other units.  If so, which units?
  • What is the patient to nurse ratio?  
  • What type of hospital is it?
  • What are the exact hours you will be working?
  • Which days?
  • Will you have a block schedule with all your working days together?
  • Will you be required to work weekends?
  • Holidays?
  • Will you be on-call?
  • Will you be responsible to work charge?
  • Is there mandatory overtime?
  • Is there a specific dress code?
  • Who is responsible for providing scrubs?
  • Is there any special equipment that you need for this job?
  • Does this hospital frequently extend contracts?
  • How many LPN’s or CNA’s will be working with you?
  • Don’t forget to ask about breaks.

Bonuses

  • What bonuses are offered?
  • Is there a sign-on bonus?
  • If so when will you get this?
  • Is there a renewal bonus or loyalty bonus?  
    • How much is it?
    • Can this bonus be worked into your hourly wage?  Remember, Bonuses are usually taxed at a higher rate. 
  • Is there a completion bonus?  
    • How much and when will you get it?
  • Is there a referral bonus if you recommend someone and they take a position with them?
    • How much?
    • When will you get it?
    • How many people can you refer?