Traveling nurses have long been relied upon to help fill gaps in healthcare demands. During the pandemic, traveling nurses were a life raft to hospitals who were swimming against the tide and trying to remain afloat. But now that the worst of the pandemic has subsided, we’re seeing a growing number of California labor law violations and contract breaches involving traveling nurse agencies and the hospitals that use them. Nurses say agencies have dangled carrots of huge sign-on bonuses, substantial hourly rates, and monthly living expense stipends – only to slash these payments mid-contract due to tapering demand.
Further complicating matters is the unique way these employment arrangements are structured: It’s the travel agency that’s technically the employer, but it’s the hospital that has control over the schedule, the assignments, the uniforms, the breaks, how the work must be done, etc. As our Los Angeles employment lawyers can explain, this level of control is the basis of some employment lawsuits by traveling nurses that seek to hold both the agency and the health care facility responsible.
Over the last year or so, we’ve seen a growing chorus of travel nurses alleging a “bait-and-switch” by the agencies that hire them. The agencies say they have no control over employment demands at hospitals, and have no choice but to cut hours if the need for nurses declines during a contract. Hospitals, citing their lack of a direct contract with nurses, say they shouldn’t be a part of any employment disputes.
Our Los Angeles employment lawyers have seen a few cases coming down the pipeline – in California, as well as other states, and so far, it seems that in disputes among these nurses, staffing agencies, and hospitals, rulings have leaned in favor of the nurses.
For example, last summer, the California Supreme Court ruled in an employment lawsuit of Grande v. Eisenhower Medical Center that a hospital and a nurse staffing agency had no privity between them. We wrote about this case several months ago on our California employment lawyer blog. Privity is when two or more parties in contract with each other are bound by that contract and obligated to each other in some way. A lack of privity in employment litigation means that two entities can be considered separate employers of the same worker. In the Grande case, the nurse settled her employment lawsuit against the staffing agency, but thanks to the state high court ruling, she was also free to pursue additional remedy directly against the hospital. Although her contract technically was with the staffing agency, the hospital maintained control over shift assignments and required nurses to use its own time and attendance system. The hospital argued it should be precluded from litigation because of its contract with the staffing agency. But the California Supreme Court ruled there was no privity because the staffing agency and the hospital had two different legal interests. Continue Reading ›