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Code Section 409A…Here Today but Possibly Gone Tomorrow and Other Proposed Changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Last week the House unveiled its tax overhaul plan, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“Act”).  The Act’s proposals related to employee benefits and compensation are as follows:

Nonqualified Deferred Compensation

Perhaps one of the most talked about aspects of the Act (at least among benefits practitioners) is the demise of Code section 409A and the creation of its replacement, Code section 409B.

Under the proposed Code section 409B regime, nonqualified deferred compensation would be defined broadly to include any compensation that could be paid later than the March 15 following the taxable year in which the compensation is no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture, but with specific carve-outs for qualified retirement plans and bona fide vacation, leave, disability, or death benefit plans.  Stock options, stock appreciation rights, restricted stock units, and other phantom equity are included expressly in the definition of nonqualified deferred compensation.

All nonqualified deferred compensation earned for services performed after 2017 would become taxable once the substantial risk of forfeiture no longer exists, even if payment of the compensation occurs in a later tax year.  As a result:

  • Stock options and stock appreciation rights would become includible in income in the year in which the award vests, without regard to whether they have been exercised.
  • An employee’s deferral of any salary under a nonqualified deferred compensation arrangement until separation from service or otherwise would result in the inclusion of such amount in the employee’s income in the year earned.
  • All salary

Equity Incentive Plans targeted by Plaintiffs’ New Theory on Section 16 Short-Swing Profit Liability

Securities and executive benefits attorneys and public companies that maintain equity incentive plans should be aware of a new theory of recovery under the “short-swing profit rule.” Plaintiffs’ attorneys have recently asserted a new form of claim alleging liability under the short-swing profit rule when shares are withheld to satisfy applicable taxes upon the vesting of awards.

Overview of the Short-Swing Profit Rule

The short-swing profit rule generally provides for strict liability of Section 16 insiders (i.e. an executive officer, director or 10% or more shareholder) if they engage in purchases and sales, or sales and purchases, of issuer equity securities within a six-month period that are not exempt under Section 16. Pursuant to Section 16 of the Exchange Act, a suit to recover short-swing profits may be instituted by the issuer or a shareholder in the name and on behalf of the issuer if the issuer fails or refuses to bring suit within 60 days after request. In practice, a plaintiff’s attorney will frequently make a demand on an issuer to seek recovery of short-swing profits after the attorney identifies non-exempt insider purchases and sales of issuer equity securities within a six-month period and, if the issuer does not resolve the issue to the attorney’s satisfaction, the attorney may then bring suit against the insider.  The potential liability to a Section 16 insider is the disgorgement of any profits earned between the purchase and the sale of the subject securities.  While there is no direct liability on the

Just Push Pause: Revisiting Proposed Regulations

On January 20, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order entitled “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” (the “Freeze Memo“).  The Freeze Memo was anticipated, and mirrors similar memos issued by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush during their first few days in office.  In light of the Freeze Memo, we have reviewed some of our recent posts discussing new regulations to determine the extent to which the Freeze Memo might affect such regulations.

TimeoutThe Regulatory Freeze

The two-page Freeze Memo requires that:

  1. Agencies not send for publication in the Federal Regulation any regulations that had not yet been so sent as of January 20, 2017, pending review by a department or agency head appointed by the President.
  2. Regulations that have been sent for publication in the Federal Register but not yet published be withdrawn, pending review by a department or agency head appointed by the President.
  3. Regulations that have been published but have not reached their effective date are to be delayed for 60 days from the date of the Freeze Memo (until March 21, 2017), pending review by a department or agency head appointed by the President. Agencies are further encouraged to consider postponing the effective date beyond the minimum 60 days.

Putting a Pin in It: Impacted Regulations

We have previously discussed a number of proposed IRS regulations which have not yet been finalized.  These include the proposed regulations to

ISS Updates Proxy Voting Guidelines for 2017

ISS Updates Proxy Voting Guidelines for 2017

December 9, 2016

Authored by: Serena Yee and Denise Erwin

vote-do-not-useLast month, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) published updates to its proxy voting guidelines effective for meetings on or after February 1, 2017.  Key compensation-related changes include the following:

Non-Employee Director Compensation Programs

In the case of management proposals seeking shareholder ratification of non-employee director compensation, ISS will review such proposals on a case-by-case basis utilizing the following factors:

  • Amount of director compensation relative to similar companies
  • Existence of problematic pay practices relating to director compensation
  • Director stock ownership guidelines and holding requirements
  • Vesting schedules for equity awards
  • Mix of cash and equity-based compensation
  • Meaningful limits on director compensation
  • Availability of retirement benefits or perquisites
  • Quality of director compensation disclosure

To the extent the equity plan under which non-employee director grants are awarded is on the ballot, ISS will consider whether it warrants support.  When a plan is determined to be relatively costly, ISS vote recommendations will be case-by-case, looking holistically at all of the factors, rather than requiring that all enumerated factors meet certain minimum criteria.

Equity Plan Scorecard

Proposals to approve or amend stock option plans, restricted stock plans and omnibus stock incentive plans for employees and/or employees and directors are evaluated using an equity plan scorecard (EPSC) approach.  For 2017, ISS has made the following changes to the EPSC:

  • Addition of New Dividends Payment Factor. Full points will be earned only if the equity plan explicitly prohibits, with

Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 5: If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It (and Other Minor Changes)

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.  Additionally, taxpayers can rely on the proposed regulations.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This last in our series is about the changes to the proposed income inclusion regulations and the other minor changes and clarifications made by the regulations.  See our prior posts, “Firing Squad,” “Taking (and Giving) Stock,” “Don’t Fear the (409A) Reaper,” and “Getting Paid.”

Preventing Waste, Fraud, and Abuse (Okay, well, mostly just abuse). The only change to the proposed income inclusion regulations was to “fix” the anti-abuse rule that applied

Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 4: Getting Paid

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.  Additionally, taxpayers can rely on the proposed regulations.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This fourth in our series is about payment-related changes.  See our first three posts, “Firing Squad,” “Taking (and Giving) Stock,” and “Don’t Fear the (409A) Reaper.” Check back for one more post on these regulations.

What’s a Payment?  That’s not merely a philosophical question.  The current regulations use “payment” a great many times, but without definition.  The proposed regulations state that a payment, for 409A purposes, is generally made when a taxable benefit

Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 3: Don’t Fear the (409A) Reaper

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.  Additionally, taxpayers can rely on the proposed regulations.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This third post is about the death benefit changes.  See our first two posts, “Firing Squad” and “Taking (and Giving) Stock.” Check back for future posts on these regulations.

Accelerated Payments for Beneficiaries. 409A generally allows plans to add death, disability, or unforeseeable emergency as potentially earlier alternative payment dates.  However, this special rule only applied to the service provider.  If the service provider dies, then the payment schedule applicable on the service provider’s death

Cautionary Observations from the Proposed 457 Regulations

Governmental Buildings and MoneyAfter more than nine years of deliberations, the IRS has finally released proposed regulations governing all types of deferred compensation plans maintained by non-profit organizations and governmental entities.

In issuing these regulations, the IRS reiterates its long-standing theme that these regulations are intended to work in harmony with, and be supplemental to, the 409A regulations. However, the IRS provides little guidance on how these regulations interact with each other.  The following discussion focuses on 3 key aspects of the new guidance: the severance exemption, the substantial risk of forfeiture requirement, and leave programs.

As with the 409A regulations, the 457 regulations exempt severance pay plans from the rules and taxes applicable to deferred compensation. The 457 regulations apply similar criteria with one notable exception: they do not apply the 401(a)(17) compensation limit in determining the “two times” dollar cap on amounts that can be paid pursuant to an exempt severance pay plan.  Practitioners in the for-profit arena currently believe they enjoy wide latitude in restructuring severance arrangements that are exempt from 409A.  It would not appear that practitioners will have that same latitude for severance arrangements that are exempt from 457, unless the arrangements also satisfy the severance pay exemption under 409A, particularly with regard to the dollar cap limit.

Historically, the proposed 457 rules afforded

Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 2: Taking (and Giving) Stock

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.  Additionally, taxpayers can rely on the proposed regulations.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This second post relates to changes in stock awards and stock sales.  See our first post, “Firing Squad.”  Check back for future posts on these regulations.

Discounted Stock Buybacks Are Now Okay, Sort of. The existing regulations had a trap for the unwary.  If the stock subject to an option or stock appreciation right (SAR) was subject to a buyback at other than fair market value, then the option or SAR may not be exempt from 409A. 

Good News! New 409A Regulations (Yes, Really!) – Part 1: Firing Squad

Good NewsOn the TV show Futurama, the aged proprietor of the delivery company Planet Express, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, had a habit of entering a room where the other characters were gathered and sharing his trademark line, “Good news, everyone!”  Of course, his news was rarely good.  More often, it was the beginning of some misadventure through which the other characters would inevitably suffer, often to great comedic effect.  So we can forgive you for thinking that we may be standing in his shoes when we tell you that new 409A regulations are good news, but really, hear us (read us?) out.

The IRS released proposed changes to both the existing final regulations and the proposed income inclusion regulations.  And the news is mostly good.

The changes are legion, so we are breaking up our coverage into a series of blog posts. This first post is all about the changes related to the end of the service relationship.  Check back for future posts discussing other aspects of these proposed regulations.

Severance Safe Harbor Available for Bad Hires. Severance is, surprisingly to some, generally considered deferred compensation subject to 409A.  However, severance can be exempt from 409A if the severance is due to a truly involuntary separation under 409A and does not exceed two times the lesser of (1) the employee’s prior annual compensation or (2) the limit on compensation

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