Washington, DC – Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA-03) has introduced the Research Fairness Act (H.R. 5915) in the U.S. Congress to prevent marketing research participants from being treated as employees of research companies.

The Research Fairness Act would clarify in federal labor law that marketing research respondents and mystery shoppers who receive reimbursement are independent contractors, rather than employees of research companies. The Act would affirmatively protect against burdensome (and difficult to defend against) administrative actions and audits by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rep. Kelly launched this initiative at the request of Colleen Moore Mezler, a constituent in the 3rd Congressional District from Erie, Pennsylvania. Colleen is the president of full service research company Moore Research Services and is a past-president of the Marketing Research Association (MRA).

The Research Fairness Act was conceived by MRA and the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). It amends the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to clarify that mystery shoppers and other participants in research are independent contractors.

“We’re thrilled at this support from Congress and are particularly grateful to Congressman Kelly,” said Howard Fienberg, PLC, director of government affairs for MRA. “While it might seem obvious that research participants and mystery shoppers are not employees of research companies, the survey and opinion research profession is under growing threat from government agencies challenging the independent contractor status of research participants.”

Labor law did not develop with marketing research in mind. The “factor tests” used by regulators to determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor were conceived in relation to classic professions like construction workers and travel agents and thus struggle to handle reimbursement for research participation, which is not a profession at all. For instance, such regulatory tests would demand that a research participant hold himself out as a professional survey participant, even carrying business cards to that effect.

Unfortunately, that kind of expectation runs afoul of the survey and opinion research profession’s ongoing efforts to prevent individuals from participating in too many research studies – participants often referred to as “cheaters,” “repeaters” or “professional respondents.” Individuals who attempt to make a living this way produce skewed data instead of representative data. They also can threaten the integrity of research results because they frequently get onto panels using fake identification and information, and similarly provide fake or erroneous responses to questions.

While most of the challenges to research participants’ independent contractor status have been at the state level, including New York, Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania, MRA and MSPA aim to prevent similar trouble at the federal level.

The two associations are also still seeking a sponsor for companion legislation to prevent the same kind of unfair actions by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

“The uncertainty hovering over the survey and opinion research profession – that research companies will be forced to treat respondents and mystery shoppers as their employees – is hindering the research profession and as a result threatening other industries’ ability to make decisions and to learn and understand what consumers want and need,” said Fienberg.


Founded in 1957, the Marketing Research Association (MRA) is the leading and largest association of the opinion and marketing research profession in the U.S., which delivers insights and intelligence to guide the decisions of companies providing products and services to consumers and businesses. Learn more at http://www.insightsassocation.org