Watch Out for Per Diem Pitfalls

March 29, 2018 by Beth Sitzler

The April NATA News features a preview of “Covering Yourself When Working Per Diem,” a NATA 2018 session held by the NATA Young Professionals’ Committee from 1:15 to 3:15 p.m. June 29 in New Orleans.

“I think there is a lot of great opportunity in per diem work,” said Alisha Pennington, MS, ATC, owner of ATvantage Athletic Training, who will lead the session. “We see a lot of our emerging practices start as per diem work with the local dance center or cheer team or rodeo. There is, I think, a burgeoning opportunity for people who are willing to take on the liability and legalities.”

The session will focus on four primary topics: how to prepare for per diem work, what you need to know when accepting per diem work, what to come prepared with to work per diem and other considerations.

“I hope [attendees] have a better understanding as to how to protect themselves when they are seeking per diem opportunities,” Pennington said. “I also hope they recognize the opportunities and the risks, and how to mitigate the risks in the opportunities.”

Below are some of the per diem misconceptions and pitfalls Pennington is going to touch on during the YPC session:


Employee-Employer Relationship vs. Independent Contractor-Employer Relationship

“There is a misconception is that [per diem work] is the same as working for an employer, and that’s not necessarily something specific to our industry,” Pennington said. “That’s a general misunderstanding for people who aren’t educated about it because the majority of the relationships we are involved in professionally are employee-employer relationships. … [Independent contractor] is a whole other type of classification of work type according to the federal government and there is quite a bit that goes into it.”

Independent contractors aren’t “controlled” the way traditional employees are, Pennington said, adding that an employer can’t dictate how an independent contractor does their work or the means by which they produce their work as they don’t need on-the-job training.

“We show up and can do the job with our educational background and continuing education,” she said.


Understand Your Tax Responsibility

“In the employee-employer relationship, we’re used to receiving a paycheck that already has deductions taken from it, that are paid to the federal and state government on our behalf,” Pennington said. “As an independent contractor, you are fully responsible for all of those taxes.”

Independent contractors are responsible for all of their taxes, meaning that after they receive their full check, it’s their                                responsibility to claim that income when they file their taxes.

“This was one that bit me pretty hard as a newly graduated young professional, not realizing that as an independent contractor, you have to pay all that back when tax reporting comes around – so be prepared for that,” said YPC member Amy Hand, MA, SCAT, ATC.


Get it in Writing

Often times, per diem work is arranged over the phone. While verbally discussing the details sound like an easy way to get everything in order, without a written contract, there is no real way to protect one’s self if they don’t get paid or things don’t go according to plan.

“Ideally, you’d have a written contract, but at a minimum, even if you follow up in an email with bullet points of what was discussed over the phone, you’ll have something in writing to protect yourself,” Pennington said.


Negotiating Payment

While talking money isn’t typically fun, Hand said it’s important to know what an appropriate hourly rate is to ensure you’re not being taken advantage of.

“As an athletic trainer covering a weekend event, $100 and a T-shirt is not fair for your services,” she said.


Other Considerations

While some of these items seem obvious, it’s important not to over look the little details, such as practice acts, physician standing orders, documentation, supplies and professional liability insurance.

“We’re always encouraged to have our own professional liability insurance, but a lot of younger athletic trainers don’t understand when organizational professional liability insurance covers them and when it doesn’t,” Hand said. “There is the possibility that if they don’t have their own professional liability insurance, that they would not be covered when accepting those per diem jobs. So we wanted to make sure that we were educating people on how to look at their policy and understand when it is covering them and when it is not.”