The Federal Trade Commission announced a proposed rule that would, if adopted, ban the use of employment-based non-competes and require employers to rescind existing non-competes. The FTC’s proposed rule would reshape large segments of the American economy and supplant numerous recently enacted state statutes restricting the permissible use of non-competes and other restrictive covenants. If the proposed rule becomes effective, employers will need to consider alternatives to protect customer and employee relationships, and confidential information.
The Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) recently suffered significant losses in two criminal trials involving alleged criminal wage-fixing and related “no-poach” agreements by and between competitors. These were the first cases ever where the parties have proceeded to trial after the DOJ pursued criminal charges under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act predicated on such conduct. The Sherman Act includes penalties for criminal violations of the statute that can reach up to $100 million per violation for companies, and individual defendants can face $1 million fines and up to 10 years in prison. While the DOJ’s trial setbacks raise legitimate questions regarding the efficacy of its aggressive antitrust enforcement agenda — particularly in labor markets — the primary federal agency tasked with enforcing criminal violations of federal antitrust laws shows no signs of pulling back on similar investigations and prosecutions in the future.
Non-compete agreements between employers and their employees traditionally are governed by state law. But that did not stop the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) from recently filing a statement of interest encouraging a Nevada state court to consider federal antitrust principles to invalidate non-compete agreements between a large medical group and its physician-employees. Taken together with other recent actions by the president and federal enforcement agencies, the DOJ’s decision to file this statement signals a more aggressive approach to non-compete enforcement at the federal level.