In an October 2016 guidance document, the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission alerted human resources professionals to potential violations of the antitrust laws in hiring and compensation decisions. The guidance included the announcement that, “Going forward, the DOJ intends to proceed criminally against naked wage-fixing or no-poaching agreements.” A naked agreement is one that is not ancillary to a broader, legitimate collaboration between businesses.
The DOJ’s decision to proceed criminally against such agreements is significant. Although the Sherman Act allows the DOJ to proceed either criminally or civilly against antitrust violators, before the guidance was issued the DOJ had treated agreements between competitors not to solicit each other’s employees as merely civil violations. Following the guidance, companies and individuals suddenly had to worry about criminal fines and potential jail sentences for entering into such agreements. Nevertheless, three years have now passed without a single such indictment being filed.