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NEW GUIDANCE ISSUED ON FEDERAL ANTITRUST REGULATIONS

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued joint guidance on Oct. 20, 2016, https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_statements/992623/ftc-doj_hr_guidance_final_10-20-16.pdf, on how Antitrust Law applies to employee hiring practices and compensation decisions.  The guidance focuses on managers and human resource (HR) professionals who are normally responsible for regulatory compliance and can, therefore, implement safeguards.  In addition, the guidance announces a significant shift in the DOJ’s enforcement policies stating that the DOJ intends to proceed criminally against “naked wage-fixing and no-poaching agreements”.  The agencies underscored the fact that violators could be pursued both civilly and criminally. The new guidance makes it clear that DOJ and FTC will look suspiciously at employers sharing information regarding terms and conditions of employment — such as industry wage surveys.

As part of their guidance, the DOJ and FTC issued what they called Antitrust Red Flags for Employment Practices. The link to these nine Red Flags is https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_statements/992623/ftc-doj_hr_red_flags.pdf. The list is a starting point for what they will be looking for and is not exhaustive of possible indications of antitrust violations. They note that if you notice these red flags or other suspicious behavior and believe that there may have been an antitrust violation, they encourage you to report it to the DOJ and FTC.

The DOJ and FTC caution employers about sharing compensation information with competitors. While not per se illegal (like wage-fixing and no-poaching agreements), the agencies note that such information-sharing such as salary and benefits surveys conducted by industry associations and trade groups could be suspicious.  The guidance directs HR professionals to avoid sharing competitively sensitive information with competitors.  Evidence of exchanges of wage information such as discussion of compensation levels or policies at industry meetings or events could be sufficient to establish an antitrust violation.  Exchanges are permissible in certain circumstances (i.e., it may be appropriate for a company to obtain competitively sensitive information in the course of M&A due diligence), but only if suitable precautions are taken.

Statement of Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission Enforcement Policy on Provider Participation in Exchange of Prices and Costs, an issue in August 1996, remains as the primary guidance in the exchange of compensation information for employees that will not result in a challenge of an antitrust violation by the DOJ and FTC. From an antitrust perspective, firms that compete to hire or retain employees are competitors in the employment marketplace.  Managers, HR professionals, and employees with access to compensation information should not communicate the company’s policies to other companies competing to hire the same types of employees.

Not all information exchanges are illegal.  It is possible to design and carry out information exchanges in ways that conform to the antitrust laws.  For example, an information exchange may be lawful if:

  • A neutral third party manages the exchange;
  • The exchange involves information that is relatively old;
  • The information is aggregated to protect the identity of the underlying sources; and
  • Enough sources are aggregated to prevent competitors from linking particular data to an individual source.

WageWatch surveys are fully compliant with all antitrust guidelines including aggregating the results to protect the identity of the participants, ensuring that the age of the data is at least 90 days old, and ensuring that data results contain at least 5 participants.  At WageWatch, we offer accurate, up-to-date benefit survey data, market compensation data and salary reports that will allow you to stay current with the times. This information is highly beneficial in creating the best salary and benefits packages that meet or rival the industry standards. For more information on our services, including market compensation data, benefits survey data and salary reports, please call WageWatch at 888-330-9243 or contact us online.