Recruitment and staffing agencies such as Health Providers Choice (HPC) rely heavily on contracts: master contracts with hospitals and health care facilities as well as contracts with travel nurses and health care providers seeking assignments. Contracts are legally binding agreements designed to protect one party or, as in most contract industries, both parties from sustaining losses. But what happens when one party breaks or breaches a contract?
For a contract to be binding it must meet certain requirements. It must be a mutual agreement — a meeting of the minds — between two or more competent parties and have a legal purpose. For example, unlawful contracts are not legally binding. All parties must agree of their own free will. Contracts typically require all parties to give up something of value. For example, a travel nurse promises to give up time and effort and the staffing agency agrees to pay a wage for hours worked. There are many other stipulations in typical contracts between travel nurses and the staffing agencies that outline each party’s obligations. When one party to a contract breaches or doesn’t hold up his or her part of the bargain, there is typically some type of consequence, often monetary.
Contracts do not always have to be written. Verbal contracts are legally binding in certain situations. Traveling nurse contracts are typically one such instance. Speed is often a priority in the travel health care industry and, since assignments are based on mutual trust, a verbal acceptance is enough to get the ball rolling and becomes legally binding before any physical documents are signed. So many things occur quickly once an agreement is accepted that it’s difficult to stop the process before many people and departments are impacted. Hospital hiring staffs stop searching for candidates while recruitment teams start putting together hiring packets as well as conduct background checks and skills verification, begin searching for housing, and set up payroll and benefits.
It’s important to understand the contract you have is with your staffing agency — not with the health care facility — so it’s important to work closely with your recruiter if you encounter issues in the workplace. It’s also important to understand all the consequences of cancelling a contract — whether verbal or written.
When you break a contract with a health care facility, it affects those in the facility who needed your services and spent time recruiting and training you. It impacts the quality of health care if the facility is now short-handed. It may affect the trust relationship between the health facility and your staffing agency. The staffing agency is not compensated for the time it spent finding you a position, gathering all the paperwork, and lining up housing and utilities. Your recruiter does not receive the deserved commission, and the agency may have to pay out your housing contract or buy out the lease if a recruiter cannot find a replacement nurse quickly.
Contract breaches also affect other nurses and the industry as a whole. Your former colleagues may have to work extra shifts to cover for your absence. Someone has to pay for the costs associated with cancelled contracts, driving down pay for other travel nurses. And agencies may hold the nursing recruit responsible for associated costs or start collecting extra deposits up front.
All these consequences should make travel nurses think twice about breaking a contract. But for those who have legitimate reasons — such as a family emergency or poor working conditions at the facility — it is acceptable to cancel a contract. Just be forewarned that it could cost you monetarily and affect your ability to work for that facility again. Rather than leave such impacts in the wake of breaking a contract, it might be better to bite the bullet, complete your assignment, and move on.
That’s why a personal relationship with your HPC recruiter is so important. You can work together to mitigate or resolve the situation or, if necessary, your recruiter may be able to find another travel nurse to fill the position with no financial penalty to you. If you repeatedly breach contracts — with a valid reason or not — you are putting your travel career in jeopardy and giving the industry a bad reputation, so it’s not a decision to make on a whim or in a moment of anger.