Guideline on Wage-Fixing and No-Poach Agreements

The Competition Bureau of Canada has recently introduced guidelines regarding the criminalization of wage-fixing and no-poach agreements between unrelated employers. The amendment to the Canadian Competition Act aims to bring the country’s competition laws in line with other jurisdictions, including the United States, which already prohibit certain labour-related agreements. The criminal prohibition took effect on June 23, 2023, after a one-year grace period for Canadian employers to ensure compliance.

Wage-fixing and No-poach Agreements Between Unaffiliated Employers Are Prohibited

The new prohibition makes it a criminal offense for employers to conspire or agree with other unaffiliated employers to fix, decrease, or control salaries, wages, or employment conditions (wage-fixing agreements). It also prohibits agreements not to solicit or hire each other’s employees (no-poach agreements).
The term “employer” encompasses human resources professionals, agents, employees, directors, and officers.

Violating this prohibition can lead to severe penalties, including imprisonment for up to 14 years and fines at the court’s discretion. Corporations may also be held liable if their “senior officers” are involved in the prohibited agreements.

Defences, Exemptions, and the Immunity and Leniency Programs
Certain defenses and exemptions exist for employers, including the Ancillary Restraints Defense, the Regulated Conduct Defense, and exemptions related to Collective Bargaining agreements. Additionally, the Bureau’s Immunity and Leniency Programs offer a way for employers to seek protection if they discover they have entered into a prohibited agreement and wish to cooperate with the Bureau.

The Enforcement Guidelines published by the Bureau, detail how the prohibition will be enforced and alleged contraventions assessed. Some key takeaways from the guidelines include:

– Investigations and enforcement actions will focus on agreements made, reaffirmed, or implemented after June 23, 2023. Pre-existing agreements are generally not a concern as long as parties do not reaffirm or implement labor restraints after the effective date.
– The prohibition applies to wage-fixing and no-poach agreements between employers who are not affiliated with each other under the Competition Act’s meaning. Agreements between affiliated employers, controlled by the same parent company, for example, are not prohibited.
– Only “two-way” no-poach agreements are prohibited, where unaffiliated employers agree not to solicit or hire each other’s employees. “One-way” restraints, such as those between service providers and businesses, are generally not in violation.
– Businesses should exercise caution when sharing information about employment terms, as sharing competitively sensitive information could raise competition risks.

Key Take Away To comply with the new prohibition, businesses should update compliance policies and training, establish guidelines for sharing employment-related information, review commercial agreements for compliance, and continually assess relationships with independent contractors. Overall, it is crucial for businesses to be well-informed about the new prohibition and the Competition Bureau’s enforcement approach to ensure they avoid violating the law and face potential penalties or legal actions.

– HR Covered Inc.
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