As the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) grows and develops, new roles and opportunities emerge. When searching for the right opportunity, it’s important to consider the employment status and salary structure offered by the agency you’re applying to. You might be tempted to accept what they offer as typical of the field, but both salaries and salary structures vary widely across the country and internationally.
In our survey of 478 BCBAs, the most common salary structure for full-time BCBAs is a simple annual salary with expectations for the number of billable hours completed each week (between 20-35 hours per week). The most common salary structure for part-time BCBAs is an hourly rate for both billable and non-billable activities.
Although this is what’s most common, the survey evoked a heated discussion related to salary and wage determination and job expectations. Finding a job with a company that values their workers is huge, but while you’re looking consider what role will be right for you.
There is no doubt that salaries for BCBAs are on the rise, but with that, companies are trying to find ways around absorbing the full cost of an employee. Other companies are becoming creative in their pay structures in an attempt to entice qualified BCBAs while not abusing their bottom line. Companies must balance the cost of salaries and benefits with the revenue generated by a BCBA. BCBAs must find an organization that allows them to meet their financial needs while creating a suitable work-life balance.
BCBA Worker Classification
The IRS identifies 2 primary worker classifications, the employee and the independent contractor. Each classification has unique characteristics in relation to the amount of control the worker has on work-related duties. An employee exists if the organization directs or controls what the worker does. If the organization only controls the outcome of services and not how they are provided, then the worker is generally considered an independent contractor. For more information on worker classifications, visit the IRS website.
Carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of each worker classification to determine which is right for you:
|Employee||~Generally consistent wages/salary|
~Employer paid benefits
~Supervision, guidance and support
~Company provides materials
~Company withholds taxes
~May be paid for non-billable tasks
|~Limited control over schedule|
~Limited control over service delivery
~May be expected to work 40-60+ hours/week if full-time
~May be expected to complete some work-related tasks unpaid
|Independent Contractor||~Control over scheduling and service delivery|
~Higher hourly rate than employee
~Ability to accept or reject cases
~May need to provide own materials
~No supervision or support
~Must pay self-employment taxes
~Will not be paid for non-billable tasks
BCBA Employment Status
There are essentially 3 general types of employment categories common among BCBAs (excluding business ownership):
- Full-time employee
- Part-time employee
- Independent Contractor
Each of the above categories offers different advantages and disadvantages and no employment status is the right choice for every BCBA. Which category is right for you depends on your current priorities. Consider the following questions:
- How much guidance and support do you need or want from an employer?
- How important is a consistent income?
- Do you need benefits such as paid vacation, health and dental insurance?
- How many hours are you comfortable working?
- Are you willing to accept responsibilities outside of normal work hours?
- How much do you value control over things such as your caseload and schedule?
The chart below outlines some of the basic characteristics you can expect for each employment category.
|Employment Status||Hours Worked||Common Benefits||Level of Autonomy|
|Full-time employee||40-60+ per week||Full benefits-medical, dental, paid vacation and sick time, retirement plans||Little|
|Part-time employee||10-30 per week||Some or no benefits||Some|
|Contractor||Individual choice||No benefits||Full|
Although BCBAs across the different employment categories receive hourly pay, how that pay is determined actually varies widely. A survey conducted in 2 different Facebook groups with 478 responding BCBAs, found the following:
|Salary Structure||Number of Respondents|
|Full-time salary pay||329 (68.8%)|
|Full-time hourly pay-Billable hours and documentation||25 (5.2%)|
|Full-time hourly pay-Billable hours only||13 (2.7%)|
|Part-time salary pay||3 (0.6%)|
|Part-time hourly pay-Billable hours and documentation||61 (12.8%)|
|Part-time hourly pay-Billable hours only||38 (7.9%)|
The images below depict the actual survey results.
The discussion among the group members included how companies determine salary. Below is a brief list of topics that were brought up in the discussions:
- Some companies select a salary or hourly rate that “bundles” the billable and non-billable tasks
- Some companies pay a lower hourly rate for non-billable tasks
- Some companies pay a salary for non-billable time plus an hourly rate for billable activities
- One company paid an hourly rate for all time, regardless of whether the activity was billable or not.
Keep in mind that a position that pays a lower hourly rate but pays for all activities may not generate as much salary as a higher hourly rate for only billable tasks if the BCBA is efficient at completing the non-billable tasks. The bottom line is you need to feel comfortable and motivated by the salary structure you agree to. If it feels as though the company is trying to cheat you, you are not likely to be happy in your job very long (even if the company is actually being quite fair).
Understanding Labor Laws
Before accepting a position that offers one of the employment categories above (i.e. full-time, part-time, or contractor), take some time to understand the legal impact of each category. While not the most entertaining reading, the Department of Labor provides an easy-to-navigate resource for employees wanting to know more about the Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act. FindLaw also provides some helpful resources if you want to dive deeper into the labor laws.
The Department of Labor considers a BCBA a professional who is exempt from both minimum wage and overtime pay protection regardless of their income or employment status. This means that employers have the right to allow or even require unpaid work. It’s up to you to decide if this practice is acceptable to you.
Disclaimer: The author is not a lawyer. Information provided in this post is not intended as legal advice. Please verify all information with a lawyer before taking action.