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U.S. Companies Assess Ripple Impact of COVID-19 on their Business and Incentive Plan Metrics

As we near the end of second quarter 2020, companies are evaluating the ripple effect COVID-19 has had and will likely continue to have on their businesses as a result of worker layoffs, shelter-in-place orders, employee health and safety matters, supply chain and counterparty risk issues and decreased product demand, among other things.

One key area of focus for many companies and compensation committees will be assessing the impact of COVID-19 on incentive plan performance award targets, many of which were set in February before the pandemic hit the United States and may now be unattainable. Most companies will want to keep their executive and management teams striving for potentially new and adjusted goals that the new environment requires. How to go about reflecting and rewarding key employees for performance around these changes becomes challenging when awards for the performance period have already been granted.

Some companies have viewed their performance awards as long-term in nature and have maintained existing performance targets in spite of changed circumstances. Others see a need for changes. The approaches will depend on each company’s particular compensation philosophy and structure, the amounts and types of awards that have been granted, the extent and manner in which the business and existing targets have been affected, and other motivating criteria at issue.

On approach that companies have considered in connection with their annual awards is to adjust the performance targets based on currently available information so as to reflect changing expectations. This approach is relatively straightforward. A

DOL Rolls Out Public Search Engine for Top-Hat Plan Statements

Top-Hat plans are unfunded plans for a select group of management or highly compensated employees that are exempt from a number of ERISA provisions (such as reporting, funding, testing, and certain fiduciary obligations).  In order to ensure that a plan is exempt from those provisions of ERISA, a plan sponsor must file a one-time “top-hat statement” with the Department of Labor within 120 days of the plan’s effective date.

The Department of Labor has rolled out a top-hat plan statement search engine, which is available to the public generally.  The engine is searchable by looking up employer names, plan names, and/or employer identification numbers (EINs).  Sponsors of top-hat plans that have previously filed a statement should consider searching the database to ensure that the statement shows up in the Department of Labor’s records.  If a statement is not found for a plan, review internal records for filing confirmations previously received.

If a top-hat statement has not been timely filed, an application may be made to the Department of Labor’s Delinquent Filers Voluntary Compliance Program to correct the error.

COVID-19 and Compensation: Considerations for Public and Private U.S. Companies

The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant disruption in the financial performance of businesses across the globe, creating real challenges for compensation programs maintained by both public and private U.S. companies. While the health and safety of company employees does and should remain the primary concern, boards of directors and compensation committees may also want to consider how the economic impact of COVID-19 may affect their short- and long-term incentive compensation programs and the potential effects of related performance declines on employee morale and commitment.

1. Establishing and Adjusting Performance Goals for Incentive Compensation Programs.

The destabilizing forces of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted business operations around the globe. As a result, company performance may lag for reasons unrelated to employee performance. In that context, boards of directors and compensation committees should evaluate the performance goals that have been (or are scheduled to be) established for their current cash and equity incentive compensation programs and determine whether it would be in the company’s interest to adjust those performance goals . For public and private companies that have not yet established performance goals for 2020 performance periods, to the extent permitted under applicable plan documents it may be best to hold off on establishing performance goals until the impact of COVID-19 on business operations is more fully understood. Fortunately for U.S. public companies, the repeal of Section 162(m)’s performance-based compensation exception in 2017 created significant flexibility as to when during a performance period performance

Highlights from Proposed Section 162(m) Regulations

Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code disallows a deduction by any publicly held corporation for applicable employee remuneration paid with respect to any covered employee to the extent that remuneration for the taxable year exceeds $1 million.   As we’ve previously blogged here, here, and here, the bill popularly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 significantly amended and expanded the scope of Section 162(m) for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017, including by eliminating its performance-based compensation exception.  Now, Proposed Regulations on the amended Section 162(m) have been released which expand on the entities, individuals and compensation that are now subject to Section 162(m).

This blog highlights some of the common questions that the Proposed Regulations attempt to clarify. The Proposed Regulations supersede (but largely confirm) the guidance in Notice 2018-68 (released in August 2018) and will generally be effective for taxable years beginning after the publication of the final regulations, except with respect to guidance relating to covered employees and grandfathered arrangements, which will be effective as of September 10, 2018.

  1. What does it mean to be a “publicly held corporation”?

A publicly held corporation includes any corporation whose securities (debt or equity) are required to be registered under Section 12 of the Exchange Act or that is required to file reports under Section 15 of the Exchange Act, in each case, as of the

ISS Updates its U.S. Compensation and Equity Compensation Plan Policies for 2020

In December 2019, Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) published updates to its FAQs for its U.S. Compensation Policies and its policies related to U.S. Equity Compensation Plans with respect to annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2020.  While ISS did not make major changes for 2020, reporting companies should be aware of the following key updates.

  • The passing scores for all U.S. Equity Plan Scorecard (“EPSC”) models remain the same as in effect for the 2019 proxy season (55 points for S&P 500 reporting companies, 53 for other reporting companies). However, ISS made the following notable changes and clarifications to EPSC’s scoring model:
    • An evergreen feature (i.e., automatic share replenishment without the need for additional stockholder approval) in an equity plan submitted for stockholder approval will be considered a negative overriding factor which may result in a negative vote recommendation. Sunset provisions applicable to such evergreen features will not be considered as a mitigating factor.
    • While the passing scores for EPSC models remain unchanged, certain factor scores within the models have been adjusted (but not disclosed since they are proprietary).
    • Limited partnership interests, including operating partnership units issued by REITs, will be included in common shares outstanding (CSO) for purposes of shareholder value transfer (SVT) and burn rate calculations if such interests are equivalent to common stock on a 1:1 basis and can be exchanged into common stock at any time at no cost to the holder.
  • ISS confirmed

ISS Updates its U.S. Compensation and Equity Compensation Plan Policies for 2019

In December 2018, Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) published updates to its FAQs for its U.S. Compensation Policies and its policies related to U.S. Equity Compensation Plans with respect to annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2019.  While ISS did not make major changes for 2019, reporting companies should be aware of the following key updates.

  • The passing scores for all U.S. Equity Plan Scorecard (“EPSC”) models remain the same as in effect for the 2018 proxy season. However, ISS made the following notable changes and clarifications to EPSC’s scoring model:
    • Full points will be awarded for the change in control (CIC) vesting factor if the plan discloses with specificity the CIC vesting treatment for both time- and performance-based awards. If a plan is silent on CIC vesting treatment or provides for discretionary vesting, then no points will be awarded for this factor.
    • Weighting on the plan duration factor has been increased to encourage plan resubmissions more often than listing exchanges require (and following the repeal of Section 162(m), which required periodic stockholder reapproval). To receive full points for plan duration, the proposed share reserve should last five to six years or less (based on the issuer’s 3-year annual average burn rate).
    • Equity plan amendments that involve removal of general references to Section 162(m) qualification (including references to approved metrics for use in performance plan-based awards) will be viewed as administrative and neutral. However, the removal of individual award limits in

FAQs on the New 162(m) Guidance

FAQs on the New 162(m) Guidance

September 13, 2018

Authored by: Lisa Van Fleet and Adam Braun

We previously blogged about the guidance released by the IRS in Notice 2018-68 (the “Notice”), which addressed some of the changes made to Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code (“Section 162(m)”) in the 2017 tax reform law (the “Act”).  In that post, we focused on the general changes in the definition of covered employee and guidance as to what constitutes a written binding contract eligible for grandfather relief.   In this post, we will address 5 of the most common questions we’ve heard companies ask about the guidance and describe potential next steps.

Q 1:   If a performance based compensation arrangement permits negative discretion to zero, are all payments made pursuant to that arrangement subject to 162(m)’s $1 million deduction limit? 

A:  Most likely, yes.  The Notice clarifies that a compensatory arrangement is not a written binding contract to the extent that any amounts payable under the arrangement may be reduced to $0 upon the company’s exercise of negative discretion.  However, if a portion of that amount is required to be paid under state law, then that portion of the payment would be grandfathered under Section 162(m) and would not be subject to its $1 million deduction limit.  Companies covered by Section 162(m) should review their current compensation arrangements now to identify the contracts and plans that may be impacted by this guidance.

Q 2:   What changes will constitute material modifications of grandfathered arrangements?  

A:   The Notice states that a material modification

The 162(m) Grandfather Reveal Party: IRS Releases Limited Guidance on Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m)

It took roughly nine months, but you may now be in a position to identify and reveal the status of contracts as 162(m) grandfathered – or not.  Last week, in IRS Notice 2018-68, the IRS provided long-awaited, albeit limited, guidance concerning the changes made to Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m) by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Specifically, the notice includes additional information about the new definition of “covered employee” (i.e., an employee with respect to whom the compensation deduction is capped at $1 million) and…drum-roll please…. the meaning of “written binding contract” for purposes of determining whether a contract is grandfathered under Section 162(m).

Notice 2018-68 anticipates that future regulations will incorporate its contents, but that any such regulations will only apply to taxable years ending on or after September 10, 2018. The notice further specifies that any future guidance, including regulations, addressing the issues covered by Notice 2018-68 in a manner that would broaden the definition of “covered employee” will apply prospectively only.

Read on for a brief summary of the guidance provided by the notice – and stay tuned for our next post which will explore the most common questions companies are asking about the guidance, including questions about equity and deferred compensation arrangements, and steps companies can take in response to it.

Covered Employees 

End of Year Requirement: Before we address the grandfather guidance, we want to explore the expanded the definition of covered employee as this may impact the employees with respect

Benefit Plan Disclosure affected by SEC Staff Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations of Proxy Rules and Schedules 14A/C

The SEC staff regularly publishes “Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations” (C&DIs) on various securities matters. Recently, the staff issued new C&DIs related to the SEC’s proxy rules. Previously, the interpretations relating to proxy rules were contained in a “Manual of Publicly Available Telephone Interpretations” which had not been updated since 1999. Included in the new C&DIs are interpretations that affect compensation and benefit plan disclosure in proxy statements filed on Schedule 14A. Most of the new compensation and benefit plan related C&DIs continue the prior Telephone Interpretations, but the following C&DI includes a new substantive interpretation:

  • C&DI Question 161.03: If a registrant is required to disclose the New Plan Benefits Table called for under Item 10(a)(2) of Schedule 14A, the table should list all of the individuals and groups for which award and benefit information is required, even if the amount to be reported is “0”. Alternatively, the registrant may choose to use a narrative disclosure accompanying the New Plan Benefits Table to identify any individual or group for which the award and benefit information to be reported is “0”. [This continues the prior Telephone Interpretations as to the requirement to list in the New Plan Benefits Table all of the individuals and groups for which award and benefit information is required, even if the amount to be reported is “0”. The option to use a narrative disclosure is a new interpretation.]

The following compensation and benefit plan C&DIs continue the staff’s prior interpretations that were included

Changes to Executive Compensation: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s Impact on Section 162(m)

On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed the bill popularly referred to as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (the “Act”) into law.  The Act contains significant changes to Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code that are effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. In this article, we provide a summary of the changes to Section 162(m) and suggest planning considerations for publicly held corporations.

Summary of Changes to Section 162(m)

Among other changes to Section 162(m), the Act eliminated the performance-based compensation exception to the $1 million deduction limitation under Section 162(m).  The Act amended the scope of the covered employees, corporations, and compensation for purposes of the $1 million limitation on the deduction for compensation paid to certain employees under Section 162(m). The changes to Section 162(m) include the following:

  • Eliminating the performance-based compensation and commission exceptions from compensation subject to Section 162(m). Under the prior rules of Section 162(m), performance-based compensation and commission were excluded from the $1 million deduction limitation. This change means that a corporation’s compensation committee no longer will be required to establish objective performance goals within 90 days of the start of an applicable performance period and that shareholder approval of the compensation terms and maximum amounts payable no longer is required for Section 162(m) purposes.
  • Expanding the definition of publicly held corporations to include corporations that file reports under Section 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, which will subject certain
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