The COVID-19 pandemic has brought not only a healthcare crisis, but also one of the worst economic downturns in history. As businesses emerge from this crisis, there may be increased risk that employees may cross the line and engage in anticompetitive conduct. Therefore, it is critical that companies and individuals prepare now to ensure that antitrust compliance and, if necessary, reporting of conduct through internal hotlines are strongly encouraged. In this article, published on Bloomberg Law, our authors explore the risks associated with antitrust cartel conduct, review enforcement by government authorities following past economic crises, and outline compliance steps companies and individuals should take to minimize enforcement risks.
If you missed our latest webinar, enjoy the replay below and learn more as we provide highlights on competitor collaborations, avoiding violations in labor markets, provider M&A and partial acquisitions.
- Antitrust compliance remains an important priority in the US. While companies have been engaged in finding creative solutions to COVID-19 challenges and regulators are expressing a willingness to be more flexible in interpreting and enforcing the law, the pandemic is not a carte blanche to engage in anti-competitive
- Regulators are more prone to accept collaborations limited in scope to respond to COVID-19 and its aftermath, and arrangements undertaken at the behest of or in partnership with government actors. Companies should avoid high-risk conduct such as direct exchanges of competitively sensitive
- Procompetitive agreements not relating to price, wages or market/product allocations remain possible. Companies should conduct an antitrust analysis before entering new collaborations and consider whether it would be helpful or advisable to engage with federal antitrust authorities or state governments to receive
- COVID-19 does not change antitrust rules for labor Antitrust laws apply to labor markets just as they do to markets for goods and services. Agreements with competing employers not to recruit, to set employee compensation or hours or to exchange confidential compensation information that reduces compensation can violate the antitrust laws. The Department of Justice (DOJ) will prosecute certain labor market antitrust violations criminally.
- Establish guardrails to minimize antitrust risk in labor markets. Non-solicitation covenants that are part of broader collaborations should be tailored in scope to minimize antitrust Compensation benchmarking and salary surveys should be done in compliance with DOJ, FTC guidance.
- Antitrust planning for transactions should begin early in the deal. This allows the antitrust strategy to be developed and pursued based on specific facts. This planning should include due diligence regarding market conditions, the rationale or justification for pursing the transaction and the financial position of the Parties should also adopt protocols for document creation and communications.
- Parties should consider transaction efficiencies, and how they benefit payors and patients. Clearly articulating the deal’s cost, access, quality and other benefits can help reduce deal delays from antitrust
- Partial acquisitions potentially may help healthcare entities mitigate both the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis and antitrust Acquiring a minority share in a rival can be less competitively restrictive than doing a full-scale merger or acquisition, because by law the parties must remain and act as separate and independent competitors.
- But anticompetitive effects can result from a partial acquisition and the FTC/DOJ Horizontal Merger Guidelines identify three reasons why: the partial buyer may be able, through board seats or governance rights, to influence the target’s decisions; the buyer may have an incentive to compete less aggressively to protect its investment; and the buyer may have access to its rival’s competitively [...]
Under the administration of President Donald Trump, the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division has significantly ramped up its private litigation amicus program.
The Antitrust Division has filed an increasing number of amicus briefs and statements of interest at the appellate and district court levels in an effort to influence the development of antitrust law. In this articles, featured in Law 360, our authors explore how analysis of this advocacy may give us the shape of antitrust policy.
In the United States, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) faced new issues this quarter with the unprecedented challenges brought about by the COVID-19 global pandemic. In March, the agencies made certain changes to the merger review process to accommodate businesses and counsel working remotely. However, merger reviews, challenges, trials and consents have continued as usual at both agencies despite the additional obstacles.
In Europe, the European Commission (EC) also put in place special measures to ensure business continuity in the enforcement of merger control during the COVID-19 crisis. The first quarter of 2020 also saw the United Kingdom’s official departure from the European Union, which has consequences on the enforcement of EU competition law in the United Kingdom.
The United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) has issued a second Business Review Letter pursuant to the expedited review process it announced on March 24, 2020 to review conduct related to COVID-19 within seven days. The letter released on April 20, 2020 issued to AmerisourceBergen Corporation, which follows a letter issued last week to medical/surgical distributors, again shows the DOJ is open to creative solutions that combat COVID-19, especially when those solutions are “focused on facilitating the government’s efforts” to get medical supplies where they are needed most.
The Business Review Letter states that the DOJ has no present intention to challenge AmerisourceBergen’s collaboration with federal government agencies, including FEMA and HHS and other private sector distributors to ensure supply and facilitate distribution of medications and other healthcare products to treat COVID-19 patients.
The DOJ Antitrust Division’s recent challenge to the United Technologies/Raytheon merger highlights a few key considerations for antitrust reviews of aerospace and defense industry transactions. The case is a useful illustration of important principles applicable to this unique industry.
In a prior note we provided guidance on COVID-19’s Impact on HSR Filing Timelines. The Agencies had indicated that early termination would not be granted while FTC operated on a temporary e-filing system.
Today, the Agencies have updated that guidance and as of March 30 will again grant early termination when both the FTC and DOJ have determined that no enforcement action will be taken during the initial waiting period. The granting of early termination for the initial HSR waiting period is not a right and is granted only at the Agencies’ discretion. The new guidance from the Premerger Notification Office states that early termination will be provided on a more limited basis and later in the process than historically provided.
On March 24, 2020, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a Joint Antitrust Statement Regarding COVID-19. In this statement, the FTC and DOJ recognize that public health efforts in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) require government and private cooperation. To address the speed at which companies and individuals must engage in COVID-19 response activities, the FTC and DOJ will respond to COVID-19-related requests for advisory opinions and business review letters within an expedited seven days of receipt of all information.
With COVID-19-related closures rolling in daily, you may have questions about the operating status of the federal government’s antitrust enforcement agencies. Currently, the HSR review process does not seem to be significantly impacted, although the agencies will not grant a request for early termination during this period (as noted in our recent update, the FTC will again process early termination requests as of March 30, though on a more limited basis and later in the process than historically provided). Unlike the government shutdowns in 2013 and 2018, all FTC and DOJ staff are working full time. In addition, the agencies have implemented a mandatory e-filing system for all HSRs.
Given that the agencies will continue to work full-time and that an e-filing system is in place, we think it is unlikely that there will be significant impact on timing for the vast majority of transactions, particularly where there is no competitive overlap between the transacting companies.
The Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) was active in 2019. At the beginning of 2019, the DOJ was preparing for trial in six matters and had 91 pending grand jury investigations. Throughout 2019, the DOJ made public several new investigations, including in the commercial flooring industry, online auctions for surplus government equipment, the insulation installation industry and suspension assemblies used in hard disk drives. The DOJ also announced developments in other ongoing investigations.
Meanwhile, the European Commission (Commission) entered into settlements with parties in three cartel cases: Occupant Safety Equipment, FOREX and Canned Vegetables. The Commission imposed total fines of €1,469 million in 2019. In March 2019, the Commission launched an online tool to submit documents and information in the context of leniency and settlement proceedings.