On July 9, 2021, President Biden issued his Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy (EO) (Fact Sheet here) signaling support for severe limitation of post-employment noncompete restrictions–a move likely to add fuel to the fire of states passing laws to limit the use of post-employment noncompetes. The EO Fact Sheet states that the banning or limiting of noncompetes will “[m]ake it easier” for employees to “change jobs[.]” Though employers may balk, given Biden’s campaign promises and support for passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (see our prior blog here), employers should not be surprised.
The EO encourages the Chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to exercise the FTC’s statutory rulemaking authority to “curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.” It is uncertain whether that rulemaking will entirely ban or just limit noncompete agreements; focus on restricting noncompetes for all workers or just those considered more vulnerable (such as low wage earners); restrict nonsolicit agreements along with noncompetes; or preempt state law.
The EO also encourages the Attorney General and the Chair of the FTC to consider revising the October 2016 Antitrust Guidance for Human Resource Professionals “to better protect workers from wage collusion” by (as the Fact Sheet explains) strengthening antitrust guidance to prevent the suppression of wages or reduction of benefits through employer collaboration and sharing of wage and benefit information. As we explained in a recent client alert, a push to scrutinize competition issues in labor markets was already in play, tracing back to the 2016 Antitrust Guidance, in which the Department of Justice and FTC alerted companies that “naked” wage-fixing and no-poaching agreements could be prosecuted criminally, and that employers competing to hire or retain the same employees are “competitors” from an antitrust perspective.