It’s no surprise that business for contract travel nursing agencies has skyrocketed over the past two years. The gaps in the healthcare industry left by high staff turnover and worker burnout have been filled by short-term employees who travel between states in return for above-average pay.
But with the explosion of popularity in temporary healthcare staffing, such as travel nursing, contract employees could unknowingly be targets of wage theft.
The huge demand for travel nurses throughout 2020 and 2021 may have led to employers skirting their responsibility for properly paying employees — or revealed employer misconduct even before the pandemic.
Compounding the controversy around healthcare staffing agencies are allegations of price gouging. Several companies are accused of exploiting the pandemic by jacking up prices for hospital administrators to utilize contract employees while underpaying or cheating the workers out of wages at the same time.
Such wrongdoing has come to light recently in the form of several class-action lawsuits against healthcare staffing agencies across the United States.
Increased Litigation Against Staffing Organizations
Some staffing agencies have already faced punishment from the federal government for wage theft. In early 2022, a company in Virginia was ordered to pay $7.2 million in back wages and damages to over 1,000 employees. Interestingly, the Department of Labor found the company was guilty of willfully misclassifying employees as independent contractors as far back as 2015, long before COVID.
Litigation against similar companies is ongoing in several states in the wake of the pandemic. One proposed class-action lawsuit in Ohio brings serious allegations against a healthcare staffing company. The suit alleges that Ohio-based staffing agency Health Carousel LLC recruited nurses from outside the U.S. (primarily the Philippines), paid them less than their American coworkers, and locked them into contracts so strict they could be considered indentured servitude.
Plaintiffs say they are owed thousands in back pay due to the company’s refusal to pay for work it considered outside the quota of the contract, such as mandatory overtime hours, which staff could not refuse. Nurses who did not want to complete their three-year employment term had to pay $20,000 to escape their contracts.
These are just some of the kinds of wage and hour violations travel nurses may have experienced, and it’s clear that the COVID pandemic has only exacerbated labor issues in the healthcare industry.
Federal Wage Law Enforcement
Workplace class action settlements set a new record in 2021 of $3.62 billion, nearly double the previous year’s amount. This trend may continue over the coming years due to an increased focus on wage and hour law enforcement from the federal government.
In addition to cracking down on healthcare-related fraud of federal pandemic relief programs, the Biden administration aims to hold more employers accountable for labor law violations, mainly related to the Fair Labor Standards Act. This could encourage more mistreated travel nurses and healthcare employees to come forward and report labor violations.
Biller & Kimble Can Fight Travel Nurse Wage Theft
As the fallout of the COVID pandemic continues to affect the healthcare industry, we may see more litigation from travel nurses and other healthcare employees.
If you worked for one of these agencies and believe you lost pay or were a victim of wage theft, the wage and hour attorneys at Biller & Kimble may be able to help. We have a successful record of securing back pay and stolen wages for our clients.