Travel nurses who negotiate overtime, make thousands more a year

Working harder and picking up shifts should equal more money. So why do some companies pay a travel nurse LESS for overtime hours? I will tell you. And I will make sure you have the right language and words to negotiate what is fair for your next contract.

What you’ll know after reading this resource:

  1. How to know if your company is already paying you fair overtime.
  2. The exact words to use when talking to your next recruiter about this.
  3. The (important) difference between extra time and overtime.

Step one, learn the lingo

Extra-time: Any hours over the hours stated in your contract. The most important distinction here is that these are extra hours after your tax-free stipends do not account for. THIS is the amount you will be negotiating for.

Overtime: State-mandated amount employers MUST pay for hours over 40 (in California, it’s also hours over 8 in one day). The minimum is 1.5x our taxable hourly rate. THIS is NOT what you will be negotiating for.

Bill Rate: The bill rate is the amount of money a hospital is paying the staffing agency for each hour a travel nurse works. This amount is divided between the agency and the travel nurse.

Blended Rate: How much money you make per hour when you combine the stipends and the taxable rate from your pay package.

Knowing the difference between these terms and which you should and should not be negotiating can help you ask for the right thing from your recruiter. If you are a travel nurse that likes picking up extra shifts, this is crucial knowledge.

Step two, understand how travel nurses are paid.

Most travel nurses make money on their paycheck in many buckets. The two biggest buckets are taxable wages and non-taxable stipends. You signed a contract and agreed to work a certain # of hours. When you are working inside those hours, you make a taxable wage + tax-free stipends. Once those hours are over, you don’t make any more stipends.

Why not? It wouldn’t make sense to the government. They are giving you tax-free stipends because you duplicate expenses, such as housing and meals. Your rent or cost to eat each week did not go up just because you picked up an extra shift. Travel nurse agencies can’t just give us more tax-free stipends because we pick up an extra shift. That’s not how it works.

The math

A common amount that a travel nurse makes for a taxable wage is $20 an hour.

That is $720 of taxed income if you work three 12-hour shifts.

On top of that, it is common for a travel nurse to make $1030 more in stipends that are NOT taxed. That would total about $1750 in a gross weekly paycheck.

That is $48 in a BLENDED rate when we combine the taxable + non-taxable per hour. ‍

Still with me? We are almost done with the math part.

If you were making $48 an hour on your first 36 hours, what do you think you should make when you pick up an extra shift and start working 37+ hours?

Well, I would say I should make $48 dollars an hour at least. But this doesn’t always happen. This is what happens to some companies. They will pay you NOTHING extra for hours 36-40, so for these hours, you will drop to $20 an hour as you are now getting zero in stipends and only your taxed wage. And then when you hit 40 hours you roll into state-mandated overtime. Now you make 1.5 the taxable wage. That is still just $30 an hour all taxed. This is a huge pay decrease to you when you are giving up your weekends, your hikes, your sleep to work extra. Not fair.

But wait…

What are the companies making for hours 36-40? And hours 40 and up? THE BILL RATE (or more). What this means is the company is still invoicing the hospital the same amount for every hour you work or they could be even invoicing the hospital for more than they were before. Some examples in hospital contracts are 10 extra dollars an hour or 1.2x times the bill rate. But even if in their contract they are not allowed to charge the hospital extra if you work overtime, they are still at a minimum making the same bill rate they were for your hours 1 – 36.

So, if you are still tracking with me, you might see where I am going with this. Your agency just got a HUGE raise and they are getting that extra money per hour you work, not you. If you were making $48 an hour and now you are making $20, your agency just made $28 an hour extra (on top of the profits they already are receiving each hour you work). And they have no additional overhead costs. All the costs to do business were taken into account for your contracted hours. Any shifts you pick up are bonuses for everyone and it should never be that only the travel nurse agency that profits from you working extra hours.

Step three, bring the lingo in the conversation

When you ask your recruiters about what you’ll get paid for extra shifts, make sure you and the recruiter are on the same page about what you are talking about. Do not assume recruiters know the lingo either. Talk in terms of definitions, it will help. The goal in the conversation is for you to learn what you will get paid each hour if you pick up any hours that are over your contract.

If you say “What will you pay me for overtime?”, you and the recruiter could have very different definitions in your head. They could tell you “1.5x the taxable rate” – because this is true as it’s a mandate by the state. What the recruiter might not have said is, “We also pay a bonus for each hour you work over your contracted hours” because they may not have known that is actually what you are asking. Words only matter when the two people talking both think the words mean the same thing.
So don’t use LINGO. Don’t say overtime OR extra time when talking to your recruiter. Use the definition and use the WHY. Show the recruiter you understand the math.

The Action Plan

The time to talk about this is right away. This is part of the interview process with a recruiter before you make a profile with them. Don’t wait until the recruiter tells you about your dream job to ask this. You might miss the chance to submit! Submitting is always something to do FAST. You can always say no or revoke your application after your submitted, but you can’t always get your application into a job first. And the best way to submit fast is to know how their company handles pay details at the start.

Here is a copy and paste template for you to start the convo:

Hi Recruiter,

I hope you are having a great day! One of the things I love to do is make sure any recruiters I work with have aligned expectations from the start. I love communicating well and promise I will always do the best I can to communicate with you. Right now, the best way for me to feel confident and excited to work with you is to make sure no surprises pop up later. (unless it’s you sending me chocolates- bring those surprises on 😉)

A fun fact about me: I am a travel nurse who likes to pick up extra hours when I can. So my question is about pay and what happens if I pick up an extra shift that is over the hours that are in a contract. I know that after the contracted hours I won’t get any extra tax-free stipend money. But I am wondering what my taxable rate will be at that time?

I do understand how bill rates work, and I know you guys will make the same bill rate -or slightly more depending on the contract- for any hours I picked up after the initial contract hours. I just want to make sure I get paid fair for any extra hours I pick up, by making sure I still make the blended rate or more if I work with you guys.

For example, if I make $1750 a week gross (around $48 an hour) for my hours 1-36, then I need to make at least $48 an hour for hours 37 and on since you will still be receiving the same dollar amount (or more) from the hospital. And of course, your overhead expenses are very small at that point, so it’s really just bonus money for everyone! I wouldn’t want to work with a company that pays only $20 an hour (an example base tax rate) for hours 36-40, and $30 an hour (state-mandated overtime rate of 1.5 the taxable) for 40+, as this is unfair and a big pay decrease for me, while you guys would get a big pay increase for my hard work!

Thanks for letting me ask this important question. Fingers crossed you guys pay greatly for travel nurses that pick up extra shifts so I can start my profile and getting all my paperwork into you!

Have a wonderful day and I look forward to hearing your response.

In gratitude,

The empowered travel nurse (aka you!!)

Kindness & empathy challenge

We can be kind and professional communicators and still have boundaries like a boss. Boundaries just mean you know yourself. You know what you stand for, what you want, what you need, and you don’t apologize for that. But you don’t let your boundaries turn you into a mean or entitled person to others if they don’t offer you what you want. You can stand in your values even if you have to say no or walk away.

My values are kindness, compassion, action, innovation, hard work, laughter, growth, bravery, vulnerability, lattes, and love.

Those are my values no matter what happens. Imagine if I said, “Those are my values until life doesn’t go the way I thought it would.” Or “Those are my values only when you agree with me or only when I’m in control, otherwise I’m demanding, scared, a victim, mean, manipulative, will put you in your place…”And so it goes.

That is not the way we (empowered travelers) play. We challenge ourselves (even though we are not perfect) to live in our values no matter what happens around us. The challenge here is no matter how the recruiter responds to that email, be graceful in your response and move on if it is not aligned. It’s no big deal.

Travel nurse FAQs

What if I’m already in a contract?

Once you sign a contract and agreed to the terms, you are locked in my friend. Feel free to send this resource to your recruiter and ask them why they pay the way they do and if you guys can pre-negotiate a different payment for the future. But at least you know your contract is only 13 weeks at a time and you’ll be much more empowered for the next one.

Should I only work with agencies that offer fair extra-time pay?

Not necessarily actually. If you’re a travel nurse that picks up a lot of extra shifts then this is something for you to seriously consider. But there are so many contracts out there that don’t even allow us to work extra shifts, and so this negotiating tool is not even relevant for those contracts. And there are some agencies who have incredible access to locations and hospitals that you might want. If you make this a non-negotiable, you’ll be limiting your opportunities. Only make this a non-negotiable for the contracts that you know you’re going to want to pick up extra shifts AND where the contract even allows you to pick up extra shifts.

My recruiter acted like they had no clue what I was talking about!

They probably didn’t. There are some really sweet, honest recruiters who have just never thought about this and never been asked about it. Their company may not have ever broken it down for them so they are a bit confused. Just send them this resource so you guys can start the conversation from the same place of knowledge.

Cheers to being paid fairly for all of our hard work!

Laura Latimer

Laura Latimer

Travel OT and Founder of Nomadicare

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