Travel Nursing 101: How Does Time Off Work?

travel nursingBy: Debra Wood, RN

Travel nurses work hard, and everyone needs a break. In fact, multiple studies have identified the health benefits of taking vacations and time off. 

So how can busy travel nurses take time off?

“Travelers typically arrange for time off prior to going on assignment, with their recruiter,” said Clayton Henderson, a supervisor in Customer Support for Onward Healthcare, a sister company AMN Healthcare in San Diego. 

“They will also work with the account management team and get approval from the client. Once it is approved, it gets written into the contract.”

The nurse will not receive pay for that time and will be responsible for reimbursing AMN Healthcare any housing stipends and per diem paid during the period the nurse is not on the job. 

“If they are in our housing, they will receive a full per diem even if they do not work any hours, but in the following pay period, we will take those back,” Henderson said. 

Per diems are only paid if the nurse works at least one shift in the pay period. It is based on hours and number of shifts worked. 

Time Off During Contract

If time off is taken during a contract, the nurse is responsible for paying stipends and per diem payments received during the time off. 

The most common time off taken is when nurses extend an assignment at the same location, Henderson said. The nurse receives the time off but not the housing stipend and per diem reimbursements. 

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“Since it is one continuous contract, the nurse remains responsible for it,” said Henderson.  

Sometimes, the best way to take time off during an assignment is to work with the facility to create several days off in a row. A nurse may negotiate days off to group several shifts in a row, some at the end of the week and the next week at the beginning.

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“The facility is not required to schedule them on certain dates,” Henderson said. 

Each contract lists the number of hours that must be worked to receive a per diem and housing stipend. 

Also, nurses can work extra shifts prior to the time off, banking the extra shifts to cover the time off. Nurses can make up hours after the time off but not the per diem payments. The nurse may earn extra funds for the time off by working additional shifts at the end of the assignment, but not the per diem. 

Nurses who get sick while on a contract are responsible for making up that time and will receive a per diem adjustment, Henderson said. Some states, such as California, and some municipalities have certain rules requiring the payment of sick time. That does not include the per diem reimbursement. 

If the start date on a contract is pushed, an exception may occur, he said. 

Vacation Between Assignments or Extensions

While many travel nurses and AMN Healthcare aim to keep nurses working with immediate back-to-back contracts that is not always possible. And some travelers only want to work a few times a year. 

Travel nurses can and often do take unpaid vacation time between assignments. If driving from one assignment to the next, they can stop and see the sights. But that time remains unpaid. 

“When going from one assignment to another, they are not technically on assignment,” Henderson explains. 

If too much time elapses, the traveler might lose his or her benefits, including healthcare coverage.

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