The federal government has increased its efforts to curtail the abuse of restrictive covenants such as non-compete agreements, non-solicitation agreements, and no-poaching agreements. In July of this year, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, which encourages the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to make use of its statutory rulemaking authority “to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.”
Federal agencies have already been utilizing antitrust and unfair competition laws to combat the abusive use of restrictive covenants. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FTC are the two federal agencies authorized to enforce antitrust laws. The two federal laws primarily used by these agencies are the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 1 et seq., and the Fair Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. 41 et seq. The Sherman Act makes illegal contracts in “restraint of trade or commerce.” The Fair Trade Commission Act prohibits “unfair methods of competition” and “unfair or deceptive trade practices.” The Supreme Court has held that any violation of the Sherman Act necessarily violates the Fair Trade Commission Act.
The Department of Justice has been cracking down on the use of no-poaching agreements between competitors since 2010. The DOJ’s Antitrust Division has been prosecuting “horizontal” (i.e. agreements between competitors) no-poaching agreements under the Sherman Act. In September 2010, DOJ announced it had reached a settlement with several large technology companies who had agreed not to “poach” each other’s employees. Continue reading ›