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Equity Awards Granted to U.S. Participants by Non-U.S. Entities Can Lead to Unintended Consequences

Because of the various benefits, securities, and tax laws that apply to equity awards, what may be permissible (and even commonplace) in one jurisdiction, may be problematic in another. Accordingly, whenever an issuer desires to issue equity awards to service providers (e.g., employees or contractors) in a different jurisdiction, the issuer should engage benefits, securities, and tax counsel in all relevant jurisdictions early in the process to avoid any unanticipated issues that could negatively impact the value or purpose of the awards. For example, a common issue occurs when the issuer is an entity outside of the United States, but equity awards will also be made to service providers in the United States. Under U.S. tax law, there are specific requirements for determining the exercise price of stock options and stock appreciation rights (under Section 409A of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (?Ç£Section 409A?Ç¥)) that require the exercise price to… Continue Reading

Ordinary Employee Benefits Issues That Can Cause Extraordinary Problems in M&A Deals

Employee benefits rarely drive corporate transactions, but if the benefits of a target company are not reviewed carefully, they can sometimes derail the transaction.  Even some of the most routine facets of benefit plan administration can result in significant potential financial exposure (e.g., additional employer contributions, taxes, penalties, and fees as well as fees associated with the preparation and filing of IRS and DOL correction program applications) that could negatively affect the overall value of the target company. By identifying issues early in the transaction, the seller can prevent costly purchase price reductions and identify issues that need correction, while the buyer can avoid overpaying for a target and ensure that representation and warranty insurance will be available to cover potential claims. Some of those routine compliance issues include, but are not limited to, the following: Failing to timely file an annual Form 5500.  The DOL can assess a penalty… Continue Reading

Proposed Rule Addressing Fiduciary Duties of Prudence and Exclusive Purpose with Respect to Proxy Voting and the Exercise of Shareholder Rights

The DOL?árecently published a proposed rule (the ?Ç£Proposed Rule?Ç¥) that would amend the current investment duties regulations to provide guidance regarding how plan fiduciaries should exercise their duties of prudence and exclusive purpose with respect to proxy voting and the exercise of shareholder rights. Prior to the Proposed Rule, the DOL had addressed such fiduciary duties in sub-regulatory guidance and individual letters, which did not provide plan fiduciaries with consistent and clear guidance on how they must exercise their duties for proxy voting and other exercises of shareholder rights. Specifically, the Proposed Rule: Codifies the DOL?ÇÖs long-standing position that plan ?Ç£fiduciaries must carry out their duties prudently and solely in the interests of the participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and beneficiaries and defraying the reasonable expenses of administering the plan?Ç¥ when deciding whether, and when, to exercise shareholder rights, including the voting… Continue Reading

Proceed with Caution When Modifying Equity-Based Performance Awards

Most equity-based performance awards for employees that will vest at the end of 2020 were granted well before the COVID-19 pandemic began (in fact, many were granted two years or more before the pandemic), and none of the performance metrics for these awards likely anticipated the havoc the pandemic has caused to the companies?ÇÖ financial and stock performance. In many cases, the pandemic has rendered these equity-based performance awards worthless to employees because the performance metrics are not even remotely achievable. Yet, employees have been working harder than ever to meet the challenges of the pandemic. Some employers looking for ways to continue to reward and retain employees are eyeing modifications of existing equity-based performance awards to either lower the target and stretch performance goals or to eliminate the performance requirement completely, at least for awards vesting in 2020 (making the awards solely time-based). Before proceeding with any such modifications,… Continue Reading

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