Research Involving Employees as Research Participants

University of Pittsburgh employees may enroll in research protocols approved by the IRB. However, additional considerations and safeguards should be considered.

Employees, including University of Pittsburgh and UPMC employees (e.g., full-time, part-time, temporary, visiting, student employee appointments, etc.) may be recruited for research participation; however, an employee may not be required to participate in research as a condition of employment. Employees (individuals or groups) should not be selected solely on the basis of convenience when they would not otherwise be appropriate for inclusion.

Recruitment of potential participants who are employees must be designed to minimize the possibility of coercion or undue influence. In general, potential participants should be solicited from a “broad base” of individuals meeting the conditions for study, rather than from individuals who report directly to the investigator(s). Strategies to minimize the potential influence of an investigator when recruiting his/her own employees include recruitment through a third party unassociated in a supervisory relationship with the employee, postings or sign-up sheets, or other methods that require an employee interested in participation to initiate contact with the investigator(s).

Investigators and IRBs must consider strategies to ensure voluntary participation when the subjects of research include employees who are directly supervised by the investigator(s). An employee’s decision about research participation may not affect (favorably or unfavorably) performance evaluations, career advancement, or other employment-related decisions made by peers or supervisors. Investigators may act as participants in their own studies if they meet the inclusion/exclusion criteria and all procedures including consent are completed by a Co-Investigator or Coordinator.

Except in unusual circumstances, investigators should not enroll employees under their direct supervision into research studies that involve greater than minimal risk without the prospect of direct benefit. Such studies should proceed only where the IRB determines that adequate provisions have been made to minimize the possibility of coercion, and the research is of significant importance and cannot be conducted without the enrollment of these employees.

Additional safeguards may be needed to protect the privacy interests of employees who are also research participants. Workplace conditions may make it difficult for investigators to keep an individual’s participation confidential, which could pose risks to participants, e.g., when stigma is associated with the condition or question under study or when peer pressure is a component of the research. In such situations, research should be conducted off-site and/or outside of regular work hours when possible to minimize potential risks.

Protecting the confidentiality of research participants’ personal information when the participants are employees may also present additional challenges. The extent to which medical information and/or research data may be accessible to supervisors or others not directly involved in the research must be considered and disclosed to potential participants in the informed consent process.

In cases where regular workplace activities are also the topic of research, investigators must clarify for potential research participants those activities that are optional and distinct from any mandatory workplace activities that would take place even without the research. When access to individuals or the facilities of the site is needed for recruitment and/or research activities, a letter of support from  someone authorized to speak on behalf of the employees/site may be required.