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The Anticompetitive Effects of Covenants not to Compete

 |  January 29, 2020

Covenants not to compete, which prevent workers from quitting their employer and moving to a competing employer, have ambiguous effects on welfare, according to economic theory. Noncompetes may enable employers to invest in assets by protecting those assets from expropriation by workers or competitors, but noncompetes also interfere with labor market competition. Recent research, however, suggests that the anticompetitive effects of noncompetes are greater than any benefits, and thus that the existing common law regime for regulating noncompetes is too weak. A plausible step forward is to strengthen the antitrust law on noncompetes. A better antitrust law would shift the burden, allowing employers to use noncompetes only when they can prove that their use of noncompetes results in higher wages in the affected labor market.