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General Payment Rules

Before you decide to pay participants, it is important to understand the definition of a “payment,” weigh the benefits and risks of paying a participant, and understand how to deliver appropriate information to the participant.

What is a payment?

Any incentive given to a participant to encourage participation is considered a payment. This can include (but is not limited to): checks, cash, gift cards, event tickets, food items, computers, materials used in the study that are not returned to the researcher, etc. Compensation given to cover a participant’s study expenses (i.e. travel, lodging) are not considered payment.

How much is too much?

The IRB does not regulate specific amounts for paying participants. Instead the Board evaluates the payment based on the risk in the study and the participants involved. If the payment entices a participant to take on risks they would not normally do then the Board considers the payment unethical. For example, paying a low-income participant a large sum to participate in a risky procedure would be considered unethical. Payment should not be the sole driving force for participating in the study.  

Please note that there are additional rules for payment documentation (created by the Procurement Office) that may affect the amount you pay participants.  Please see Special requirements for studies where payment is funded by U.Va. or State funds (including Grants).

What do I include in advertisements and/or in a consent form?

An advertisement can include information about a payment but the payment should not be the focus of the advertisement. The information about the payment should be upfront and clear without any use of marketing gimmicks.  The consent form will provide the participant with further information about payment details in the “Payment” section.  The “How to withdraw” section should also include information about what happens if a participant decides to withdraw from a study.  Generally the Board requests that a participant be either given the entire payment or that the payment be prorated according to amount of participation given.  Payment policy should not be such that it coerces or compels a participant to complete the study even though they may wish to withdraw.  For more information, please see Consent.

How do I issue payment?

In your protocol, you will need to include a detailed explanation of how you will issue payments to the participants.  As part of your payment procedures, you need to address any issues that will prevent you from protecting your participant’s confidentiality or maintaining anonymity. For example, if you are conducting an anonymous survey but you want to pay the participants for their participation, you need to devise a method for collecting information for payment so that it is separate from the survey.  Where the money comes from and how it gets to a participant can affect the procedures for issuing payment as well as protecting participant confidentiality. In your protocol, you will need to describe how payment will be issued and what you will do to protect confidentiality and/or anonymity.  

Please note that if the funds you are using to issue payment come from U.Va. or state funds, there are additional rules regarding how payment should be made. For more information, please see Special requirements for studies where payment is funded by U.Va. or state funds (including Grants).

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