The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition and the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division jointly announced today that they will seek to protect workers on the front lines of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic‑‑including doctors, nurses, first responders, and those who work in grocery stores, pharmacies, and warehouses, among other essential service providers‑‑by using various antitrust laws against those who seek to exploit the current circumstances to engage in anticompetitive conduct in the labor market.
In a joint statement, the two agencies acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic may require unprecedented cooperation between federal, state, local, and tribal governments, private businesses, and individuals in order to protect the health and safety of Americans.
At the same time, the agencies said they are on alert for employers, staffing companies, and recruiters, among others, who might engage in collusion or other anticompetitive conduct in labor markets, such as agreements to lower wages or to reduce salaries or hours worked. The FTC’s Bureau of Competition and the Antitrust Division, the statement relays, will not hesitate to hold accountable those who seek to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to prey on working Americans by subverting competition in labor markets.
“Many American workers are under a tremendous amount of stress because of COVID-19, and that includes essential workers and first responders,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “We will not stand for any collusion among employers that would deprive workers of competitive compensation for their hard work.”
“The Antitrust Division will not tolerate companies and individuals who use COVID-19 to harm competition that cheats payroll and non-payroll workers,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “This includes doctors, nurses, first responders, and those who work in grocery stores, pharmacies, delivery and distribution networks, and warehouses, among other essential service providers on the front lines of addressing the crisis. Even in times of crisis, we choose a policy of competition over collusion. The Division will use its enforcement authority to ensure that companies and individuals who distort the free market for labor are held to account.”
Companies and individuals who enter into unlawful wage-fixing and no-poach agreements may be criminally prosecuted by the Antitrust Division, and those that invite collusion may be subject to civil enforcement by the FTC, even absent a collusive agreement, the statement further notes. The agencies may also use their civil enforcement authority to challenge unilateral anticompetitive conduct by employers that harms competition in a labor market.
To report information concerning harm to competition in a labor market, email the FTC’s Bureau of Competition’s complaint center at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at email@example.com.
In addition, both the FTC and the Justice Department are continuing to address potential fraud and deception by individuals and businesses attempting to take advantage of the situation involving COVID-19. Consumers can report complaints to the FTC Complaint Assistant, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline (1-866-720-5721), or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). More information on the FTC’s guidance on potential fraud, deceptive practices, and scams is available here.