Hello and welcome to another episode of The Truth About Travel Nursing Podcast. This is your host, Kyle Schmidt. Thank you so much for joining us for episode 36 of the podcast. In this episode, we’re going to discuss one of the most important aspects of travel healthcare, getting paid. Specifically, we’re going to discuss how payroll works, how and why paycheck errors occur, how you can resolve payroll errors and, better yet, how you can avoid paycheck errors altogether.
Now, if you’ve been a travel healthcare professional for very long, then there is a really good chance that you’ve encountered a paycheck error or at least some difficulty with payroll processing. I mean, I see it mentioned all the time in forums and on social media. In fact, here is a quote from one that I saw recently:
“I’ve spent 3 hours today trying to get my payroll situation straight with AMN. It’s still not straight. I’m over it!!!! This has truly ruined my travel nursing experience and I don’t think I will travel as a nurse again. I’d rather work at Walmart at this point!!!! Thanks for letting me vent!”
Now, to be fair, many of the responses to this post were from travelers who’ve been with AMN for long periods and have never experienced a payroll related problem. For example, one response was, “I traveled with AMN for 8 years and never had a payroll problem or any other problem either.”
The reason I chose this particular quote is because demonstrates that even the largest companies in the business experience problems related to payroll. And these are the companies that typically have the most advanced payroll systems, processes and procedures in place. I mean, say what you will about the largest companies in the business, but one thing is for sure, they got big by developing some excellent processes and procedures.
So, why do payroll errors occur so often in the travel healthcare industry and at all levels of the industry. Well, there are several factors that make processing payroll in the healthcare staffing industry both unique and complicated. So, let’s take a look at those first.
For starters, healthcare staffing companies are working with distributed workforces. “Distributed” is a fancy way of saying remote. In other words, the workers don’t come in physically to the office. They all work in remote locations. In fact, you will most likely never visit your travel healthcare agency’s offices.
Why is this important? Well, when a company is working with in-house staff, they are easily able to get all the documents they need completed properly. If there is a problem, they simply call the employee into the office and take care of the problem real time. And that goes for really any problem. If there is a problem with a timecard, they simply deal with it right there on the spot. If there is a problem with the direct deposit form that the employee filled out, again, they deal with that right there on the spot.
When workers are distributed, you need to contact them via telephone or email. So, they’re less accessible. And there is always a back and forth. For example, the worker might send the required form back, but it’s not complete, or there is an error. If the person is right there in the same room, everything can be taken care of on the spot. If not, then the form needs to be emailed again, contact needs to be made and so on. Basically, it just adds an extra layer of difficulty to the process.
Okay, so another issue to consider is that travel nursing companies aren’t really able to maintain truly standardized time reporting for their staff. This is because agencies are working with tons of different clients, all of whom have different processes and procedures of their own. Basically, we’re talking about the hospitals here.
Some hospitals start their work weeks on different days than others. Some hospitals use electronic time reporting systems like kronos or some other system. Other hospitals still use paper timecards. Some hospitals require travelers to get timecards signed by their unit manager and then make the travelers responsible for sending the timecards into the agency. Other hospitals require travelers to turn their timecards into the hospital’s staffing office which is then supposed to submit a report to the agency.
And let me tell you, some hospitals are the worst at getting time reported to the agency. I mean, some hospitals will get the time reported to the agency promptly on like Monday morning of the following week. And at other hospitals, agencies need to beat down the doors just to get someone to say that they’ll send them the time sheet…and it still may not get sent on time.
And here again, if you were on site working with the agency, then you would simply turn your timecard in and it would all be taken care of. Being remote means you can’t do that. And having the hospital involved in the process essentially adds a middleman that can cause all kinds of problems.
Also, all of these time reports are coming to the agency in a different format. Some reports come in excel spreadsheets, other reports come on the hospital’s timecard, some reports come on the agency’s own timecard. Some are handwritten, some are typed.
And they often break the hours down differently. For example, one hospital in California might record a 12 hour shift as 12 total hours while another hospital might record it as 8 regular hours and 4 overtime hours.
Now, another big issue to consider is that there is a pretty narrow window to get payroll processed. So, the typical work week is Sunday through Saturday, right? And the agency typically has until Wednesday to get all of the payroll details entered into their payroll processing system. It’s possible that they can get stuff entered on Thursday, but the absolute latest cutoff might be early Thursday afternoon.
And this is because the vast majority of agencies process their payroll using what’s known as an ACH transfer. ACH stands for Automated Clearing House. And this is a system that that processes transfers in batches as opposed to one at a time. It typically takes 1 to 3 days for an ACH transfer to hit the receiver’s account. And of course most agencies are going to use one of the big payroll processing companies like ADP or Paychex…so these services get these ACH transfers processed pretty quickly.
But, nonetheless, the point is that this pretty much gives the agency Monday, Tuesday and maybe Wednesday to get all the time cards reported in good order and get all the data entered into the payroll system to run the transfer in time for it to show up in your account by Friday. So again, this is one of the problems with working with all these different hospitals. Agencies really want to get these timecards as soon as they possibly can and sometimes hospitals just don’t care, so they lag.
Okay, so another thing to consider is that travel nursing pay packages are much more complicated than standard pay packages. And, of course, that complicates payroll processing. You know, travelers get an hourly base rate which is normal of course. But some travelers are in states that pay overtime after 8 hours in a day and others are in states that don’t pay daily overtime like this. So, payroll needs to get that entered properly.
And more importantly, travel pay includes all the tax free stipends. So, you have different travelers with different taxable hourly wages, different M&IE stipends, different lodging stipends, different travel stipends and on and on. And then there are penalties for missed shifts, and pay backs for makeup shifts. There are special rates for extra hours that are worked in addition to the contracted hours. There are bonuses and so on.
So, some of these payroll processing systems just aren’t equipped to deal with a lot of this stuff so it needs to be tracked and entered manually. I mean, at the end of the day, there are so many ways that errors can potentially be made…and that’s why there are generally more errors with travel nursing paychecks than there are with paychecks for other professions.
So, what can we do about it? How should we expect the agency to react and handle these issues? How can we ensure that we avoid these issues? And what can we do to ensure they get resolved quickly when they do happen?
I think the best place to start is with what we can expect out of agencies when these errors occur. Now, this is difficult to say but, it has to be said, when a payroll error is the traveler’s fault, then we’re pretty much going to be at the mercy of the agency. We really don’t have a leg to stand on. Sure, we can get another agency to work with on the next contract if the agency doesn’t take of the issue the way we want them to, but at the end of the day, we still wouldn’t be able to expect different results from the new agency.
That said, some agencies certainly do go above and beyond and totally resolve paycheck issues even when they are not the agency’s fault. But I think it’s fair to say that every agency would have its limits in this regard. So, let’s approach this issue with the mindset that travelers have to do their part to ensure that everything is taken care of on their end. And with that in mind, let’s take a look at some recommendations for avoiding and resolving payroll issues.
The first thing is to make sure that you know your pay package inside and out. You know exactly what you’re due and when it’s due. In fact, I always urge travelers to set calendar reminders for themselves to check and make sure that payments happen when and how they’re supposed to.
Now, I say this because payroll errors often get made without anybody noticing. I know that sounds crazy, but trust me, it happens a lot. And it goes both ways!
You know, I once had a traveler get an extra $700 a week for an entire 13 week contract. Basically, the setting for this traveler’s travel stipend got set as a weekly payment instead of a one-time payment. They never said anything and I never noticed it. And I could give hundreds of other stories like this, going both ways, from different travelers working with different agencies.
The point is that it’s really important to check your paychecks to make sure they’re correct. Set a calendar reminder to check for travel stipends when they’re due, your bonuses, any reimbursements you’re due, like if your company reimburses you for utilities at an apartment, and even check to make sure your extra-hours are paid correctly as well. Every paycheck should be scrutinized for accuracy.
Okay, so the next thing to do is to make sure that you adhere to the facility’s timecard policy. As I mentioned earlier, different facilities have different processes and procedures in place for time reporting. It’s really important to familiarize yourself with each facility’s process and follow the rules to a T. Failing to do so can result in paycheck errors and issues that your fault, so you’ll lose the upper hand in coming to a resolution.
Next, it’s also important to adhere to the agency’s time-card policy as well. I know it sounds crazy, but most agencies are going to have their own time reporting rules in addition to the rules that the hospital maintains. For example, some agencies might ask that you to call in or check in with your recruiter by a certain day each week to make sure that your timecard was received. Or, they might ask that you fax in a copy of your timesheet to them even if the hospital has said you don’t have to do that. Agencies typically have really good reasons for maintaining these policies and at the end of the day, they’re all intended to ensure that you get paid correctly and on time.
Now, that said, I actually always recommend that travelers keep a report of their own time whether the agency asks you to or not. And I also recommend that you send a copy of your own personal timecard to your recruiter on weekly basis and have them verify that they’ve received it.
To do this, ask your recruiter for a copy of the agency’s official timecard. Every agency has their own timecard. Make a bunch of copies to last you through the course of your contract. Each week, fill the timecard out thoroughly and simply use your phone to send a copy to your recruiter.
Take a picture and either email or fax it to them. Or, use a document scanning app like Camscanner to make a pdf and email it to your recruiter. You know, we discussed a bunch of apps for travel nurses in a blog post titled 59 apps for travel nurses and I’ll link to that blog post on the show notes page for this episode so that you can check out a bunch of document management apps for your phone.
Anyway, basically you’re going to get a copy of your own time card over to agency as early in the week as possible and verify that they received it. Of course, in some cases, this is going to be required anyway. And if it’s required, then you need to follow the rules provided by the agency. Again, I’m recommending that you send it in even when it’s not required.
And the reason is that it really helps to ensure that you get paid on time and correctly. As I mentioned earlier, hospitals can be really slow to get timecards over to your agency. Moreover, hospitals often send timecards over with mistakes on them. And it’s amazing how often those mistakes are in the hospitals favor, right? They always underreport hours.
So, having a record of time that comes straight from you helps the agency out in a couple of ways. First, they can match what you reported to what the hospital reported. If your report differs from what the hospital reported, then they should investigate the discrepancy and get it worked out.
Of course, without your time report, they might have no clue that there was a discrepancy in the first place. For example, maybe you worked an extra shift and it didn’t get reported on your timecard. The agency would receive a timecard that just looked normal, all the contracted hours had been worked. But with your timecard, they would be able to see the difference between what you reported and what the hospital reported.
Also, having a timecard from you will often help the agency collect a timecard from the hospital when the hospital is lagging. For example, when the agency doesn’t receive a timecard from the hospital, they will often contact the staffing office at the hospital or maybe even the vendor management service. The representatives there might give the agency the run-around. If the agency can say, “Hey, look, we’ve got a copy of the timecard right here, maybe we can fax it over to you to verify or get this taken care of.” I mean, that might be all it takes to get the VMS or the hospital to work things out.
And finally, some agencies will use your time card to make sure you get paid on time. So, if the hospital or the VMS fails to send the official timecard to the agency, then the agency may just take your timecard on good faith and get you paid. So, it’s a really good idea to keep your own time card. Also, hold on to them for a while in case you notice something fishy later down the road.
Okay, so the next thing I always recommend to ensure that you’re getting paid correctly and on time is to get a bank account with a national bank. And this really comes into play when you’re resolving paycheck issues. You know, a lot of travel nurses have bank accounts with small regional banks or credit unions. And personally, I live these banks. I mean, I’m all for supporting small local businesses and all that.
However, when you’re out there traveling, these banks can be a real pain. They tend to process electronic transfers of all types much more slowly than the larger banks. The sometimes have more stringent holding periods on deposited funds which means you won’t be able to access your funds as readily. And of course, they most likely won’t have branches in your travel locations or in your agency’s location. And we’ll discuss why that’s important in just a bit.
First, the next thing I recommend to ensure that you can get paycheck errors resolved quickly is to check for paycheck errors as early as possible. Basically, you want to figure out when your deposit typically hits your account. In most cases, the deposit will hit sometime late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
Now, the best case scenario is when the agency has an online system that you can log into to review your pay stub. This way, you’re able to see a breakdown of everything so you know exactly what’s going on. So, if your agency has one of these systems, then be sure to familiarize yourself with the functionality and how everything is displayed. Most agencies have these systems in place these days, so that’s a really good thing.
If your agency doesn’t have one of these systems, then you’ll need to check your deposit and try and figure out if the deposited amount is correct by either working backwards on your own or calling your recruiter to request a breakdown.
The reason that it’s so important to check your paycheck as early as possible is because it will give you enough time to deal with the issue with the maximum number of possible resolutions available. As you’ll see in a bit, some of the solutions that we’ll discuss have deadlines. And because paychecks usually get deposited on Fridays, missing the deadlines can mean that there isn’t a resolution available until Monday at the earliest.
Okay, so let’s talk about the possible solutions. You know, many agencies and recruiters will just act like there is nothing they can do. Again, if the error is your fault, then you don’t have a lot of leverage to get them to do something about it. But if the error is the agency’s fault, then I’m of the belief that they should do everything in their power to rectify the situation.
That said, many agencies still won’t do anything to rectify the problem. They’ll just act like there is nothing to do, like they’re powerless. The most common thing they say is that there is nothing they can do until they run they’re next payroll processing is run. For some agencies that’s weekly and for other agencies that’s every two weeks. This is where knowing about the options that are available can be really helpful for you.
One option is that they can request their payroll processing service to run an ACH transfer off schedule. Basically, the agency will fix everything they need to fix for you in their payroll system and they’ll send the request over to the processing service. There may be a fee involved, but it can be done.
As I mentioned earlier, these transfers typically take anywhere from 1 to 3 business days to post. It could be sooner, but that’s the norm. So, remember that if you need the money immediately.
Another option is a wire transfer. Wire transfers are a quick way to send cash from one account to another, but they’re a bit tedious and a little costly. Basically, you’d need to provide the agency with the wire instructions for your bank account. These instructions are typically the name of the bank, locations of your account branch, account number and the banks ABA number. The ABA number is a nine digit number and often called the routing number. Your agency would then call their bank and initiate the wire transfer for the amount you’re owed.
The cutoff for federal wire transfers is 4:30 pm pacific time, but some banks require that they be submitted and or received earlier for processing the same day. As long as the request is submitted on time, the funds will be available for your bank to deposit the same day. Different banks post them at different time, but the transfer should be posted to your account within 1 day. And, they’re federally guaranteed so there should be no hold periods on the funds.
One thing to know about wires is that banks often charge on both sides of the transaction. So, there is a cost for receiving them. You should make sure your agency covers this cost if it’s charged to you.
Okay, so your agency could also make a cash deposit to your account for you. In this case, they simply walk cash into a branch of your bank and make the deposit on your behalf. The funds are available immediately because it’s cash. Of course, this is one of the reasons it’s so nice to have a large national bank, they’ll almost certainly have branches in your agency’s city.
Alright, so another option is a cashier’s check. A cashier’s check can only be obtained from a bank and the money is guaranteed by the bank. So, they can often be easily cashed anywhere and they can be deposited without a hold.
Now, a money order is similar and it can be used as well. Money orders can be obtained in many locations including post offices and convenience stores. But they’re typically more expensive than a cashier’s check and the guarantee on the funds is only as good as the place it was obtained. So, banks typically put a hold on money orders. I’d recommend against them, but they’re an option nonetheless.
Alright, your agency could also cut a live a check for you. Essentially, they’ll just run all the numbers into their payroll system and instead of sending an ACH, they’ll just print a check and the corresponding pay stub. They can then deposit it to your account by walking it in to a local branch or they can overnight the check to you. Again, there will be a hold on the check in most cases, but it’s better than waiting 1 to 2 weeks to get your money.
Finally, the last set of options might be the best. Of course, there’s an app for that as saying goes. Basically, there are all kinds of amazingly easy and cheap ways to send people money now. The best services are Square Cash, Venmo, Google Wallet and Paypal. Each of them works a little differently. But they can all be used to send and receive cash quickly and easily. And we’ll link to all of these services on the show notes page as well.
I mean, personally I would recommend that all agencies get set up with one or all of these services. It’s a great way to ensure that your travelers are taken care of when payroll errors arise. Essentially, the agency can run the numbers into their payroll system to calculate the amount of what’s owed to you. Then, they can send that exact amount via one of these services. Then, they’ll offset the amount owed on the paycheck by the amount they send you, which in this case will zero out the check just as if it had been direct deposited.
Okay, so clearly you can see that there are tons of options for rectifying payroll errors that can be accomplished with minimal effort and cost. It’s just a matter of whether or not the agency is willing to do it. If you run into a situation where there is a payroll error caused by the agency and they’re giving you the run around, then toss all of these options out there to see if they’ll work with you. If they’re not willing to work with you, then it’s time to find a new agency in my opinion. I mean, all services, agencies or otherwise, should be chomping at the bit to make things right for their customers when the service is to blame.
Okay, so that’s a great place to wrap up this week’s episode. We’ve covered a ton about how why payroll errors happen so much in travel healthcare and how you can avoid them and resolve them when they do happen. I certainly hope you never run into this problem, but I hope the information comes in handy if you do run into a problem.
As always, we’ll have links to everything we discussed in the episode along with the transcript of the show up on the show note page. The link is blog.bluepipes.com/episode26. You can also leave any questions or comments there and I’ll gladly address them. While you’re there, be sure to join BluePipes and take advantage of all the networking and career management tools designed to help simplify your travel nursing career and your healthcare career in general!
If you’ve been enjoying this podcast, then I would greatly appreciate it if you would provide us with a review on whatever platform you’re listening through. Whether it’s iTunes or stitcher, it really goes a long way toward helping us move up in the rankings so we can get this information out to more travelers and keep the show going.
Again, thanks so much for listening and until next time, have a safe and prosperous travel healthcare adventure.
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