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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

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

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

Dodd-Frank SEC Guidance Executive Compensation – Status

Dodd-Frank SEC Guidance Executive Compensation – Status

November 2, 2015

Authored by: benefitsbclp

With all the rulemaking required under the Dodd-Frank Act, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with the status of the various rules.  Below is a handy chart that details the current status of the various executive compensation rulemakings.  We plan to update this periodically for additional rulemakings, so be sure to come back and visit from time to time.

Last Updated: November 2, 2015

Provision Summary Status of SEC Rulemaking Say on Pay; Say on Golden Parachutes § 951 Requires advisory vote of shareholders on executive compensation and golden parachutes; advisory vote on frequency of say on pay

  • Final rule: adopted January 25, 2011; SEC Rel. No. 33-9178

Compensation Committee Independence § 952(includes comp consultant conflicts) Requires stock exchanges to adopt listing standards that require:

  • compensation committee members to be “independent;”
  • each committee must   have the authority to engage compensation advisers and before selecting any adviser, the committee must take into consideration specific independence factors; and
  • the committee must be directly responsible for the appointment, comp and oversight of the advisers and the company must provide funding.

Requires disclosure of whether the committee obtained advice of a comp consultant, and whether the work raised a conflict of interest and how it was addressed

  • Final rule: adopted June 20, 2012 requiring exchanges to adopt listing standards; SEC Rel. No. 33-9330
  • SEC approved listing standards in January 2013 exchanges subsequently adopted the required listing standards

Clawback Policy §

Proposed Rule Would Make No-Fault Clawbacks Mandatory for Public Companies

Guy GrabbingLast week the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed a new Rule 10D-1 that would direct national securities exchanges and associations to establish listing standards requiring companies to adopt, enforce and disclose policies to clawback excess incentive-based compensation from executive officers.

  • Covered Securities Issuers. With limited exceptions for issuers of certain securities and unit investment trusts (UITs), the Proposed Rule 10D-1 would apply to all listed companies, including emerging growth companies, smaller reporting companies, foreign private issuers and controlled companies. Registered management investment companies would be subject to the requirements of the Proposed Rule only to the extent they had awarded incentive-based compensation to executive officers in any of the last three fiscal years.
  • Covered Officers.   The Proposed Rule would apply to current and former Section 16 officers, which includes a company’s president, principal financial officer, principal accounting officer (or if none, the controller), any vice-president in charge of a principal business unit, division or function, and any other officer or person who performs policy-making functions for the company. Executive officers of a company’s parent or subsidiary would be covered officers to the extent they perform policy making functions for the company.
  • Triggering Event. Under the Proposed Rule, the clawback policies would be triggered each time the company is required to prepare a restatement to correct one or more errors that are material to previously issued financial

Something Else to Concern Plan Fiduciaries – The Floating NAV Rule

Floating DollarAccording to the Investment Company Institute, approximately 18%% of all mutual fund assets are invested in money market mutual funds.  An even higher percentage reflects the investment in money market mutual funds held by participant-directed defined contribution plans.  Many of these plan participants believe that their retirement money is “safe” in a money market mutual fund since these funds are thought to be “guaranteed” to maintain a fixed target value of $1.00 per share.  Plan participants do not, as a rule, appreciate the risks inherent in money market mutual funds that in certain market conditions might “break the buck.”

On July 23, 2014, the SEC promulgated a rule (the “MMF Rule”) addressing what it believes could be heavy redemptions of money market mutual funds in the event of economic stress.  The MMF Rule intends to make information about money market mutual funds, particularly inherent risk factors, more transparent.

Money market mutual funds offer a return of principal, liquidity and a rate of return based on the market.  The net asset value (NAV) per share of a money market mutual fund changes daily in response to market factors, but the funds are designed to retain a stable share price that is typically $1.00 per share.

Federal rules require money market mutual funds to invest in short-term investments with minimal credit risk and high quality.  But even investments that carry

Upcoming Equity Plan Proposal? ISS Invites U.S. Companies to Verify Equity Plan Data

Institutional Shareholder Services, or ISS, invites U.S. companies to verify the data it uses to evaluate proxy statement equity plan proposals.  ISS previously announced a move to a “balanced scorecard” approach for its evaluation of equity plan proposals.  Data verification is included as a key feature of this approach.

Data verification allows companies to preview, and if necessary update, the data used by ISS in its vote recommendation.  Some companies have been frustrated when reviewing ISS vote recommendations that include inaccurate or misconstrued data.  This program is designed to improve the quality of information used by ISS.  See “FAQs:  Equity Plan Data Verification” for details about the program.  Below is a summary of some key features:

How to Participate

  • The data verification program is optional.
  • It is open to U.S. companies who have filed definitive proxy materials after September 8th, 2014 with an equity plan proposal (new or amendment) on the ballot.
  • The data verification program does not apply to other compensation plan proposals such as cash and bonus plan proposals.
  • To participate in the program, the company’s proxy materials must be filed at least 30 days in advance of the meeting date.
  • Data verification is only available to company contacts who register in advance to participate in the data verification program with ISS.

Timing

  • Companies will have only a short period to verify their equity plan data – approximately two business days to review and respond.
  • The window period is expected to open within

The Moench Presumption is Dead – Long Live the Dudenhoeffer Presumption

On June 25, 2014, a unanimous United States Supreme Court weighed in on the legal standards applicable in stock drop cases in Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer.

Facts. Beginning in 2007, Fifth Third Bank began experiencing a large number of mishaps, most of them associated with borrowers not repaying their loans when due. As a result, Fifth Third’s stock price suffered the same phenomenon as that of virtually every other publicly traded financial institution in the world during the great recession: it dropped precipitously, falling 74% from July 2007 to September 2009. With the benefit of hindsight, plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against the fiduciaries of the Fifth Third 401(k) Plan, alleging that all of this should have been patently obvious based on public and nonpublic information allegedly possessed by the fiduciaries. The plaintiffs asserted that the fiduciaries should have taken one or more of the following actions with respect to the company stock fund in the 401(k) Plan: (1) sell the stock before it declined; (2) refrain from purchasing any more Fifth Third stock; (3) cancel the Plan’s company stock option; and (4) disclose the inside information allegedly in their possession so that the market would appropriately adjust its valuation of Fifth Third stock downward and the Plan would as a result no longer be overpaying for it.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling. Much of the decision focuses on whether the so-called “Moench” presumption of prudence attaches to a fiduciary’s decision to allow or continue

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