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From NATHO: Understanding your assignment contract

Each time you accept a new assignment, you're given a written contract that outlines the terms and conditions of the engagement, as well as the responsibilities of both parties – you and the agency that you're working with.

Cynthia Kinnas
Naturally, before you sign, one of the first things you should do is ensure that the pay rate you agreed to is correct as well as the start and end dates for the assignment. However, your review of this important legal document shouldn't end there. Here are 10 additional items to look for in each written agreement before you sign.

1. As a traveler, you shouldn't need a law degree to understand your contracts. These documents are generally written in a clear, straightforward manner using language that the average person can easily comprehend. If you're given a contract that's unclear, or contains a lot of legalese, call your recruiter to clarify any portions that you don't understand. If your recruiter can't answer your questions satisfactorily, ask to speak with a recruiting manager.

2. Because hospitals are becoming more stringent regarding when basic documentation should be submitted prior to the beginning of an assignment, that's information that your contract should clarify up front.

Assignments may be delayed or even cancelled if items like health records, drug screening results, competency test results, and other records aren't delivered to a hospital's HR department in a timely manner. Remember, your contract should outline exactly what documentation is required before you show up.

3. More and more agencies are offering guaranteed hours. This can be a good thing for mobile professionals, but what it actually means can vary. In written agreements that don't include guaranteed hours, there is a general expectation that a traveling professional will work 36 to 40 hours per week.

However, if a hospital has low census and shifts are cancelled, then so is the pay for those shifts. Contracts that call for guaranteed hours might be "iron clad," where a traveler gets paid for a certain number of hours each week, even if he or she encounters shift cancellations.

A contract may also state that hours are guaranteed with the exception of one shift every two weeks, or outline one shift per month that is exempt from the guarantee.

4. It's expected that travelers will work every scheduled shift because hospitals employ temporary staff when they need the extra help. However, personal emergencies and illnesses do occur. Read your respective agreement and understand how to make up for lost hours or what penalties might occur if you can't fulfill your obligation.

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