Executive remuneration encompasses a diverse range of practices and is consequently influenced by many different areas of the law, including tax, employment, securities and other aspects of corporate law. We have structured this book with the intention of providing readers with an overview of these areas of law as they relate to the field of executive remuneration. The intended readership of this book includes both in-house and outside counsel who are involved in either the structuring of employment and compensation arrangements, or more general corporate governance matters. We hope this book will be particularly useful in circumstances where a corporation is considering establishing a presence in a new jurisdiction and is seeking to understand the various rules and regulations that may govern executive employment (or the corporate governance rules relating thereto) with regard to newly hired (or transferring) executives in that jurisdiction.
The most fundamental considerations relating to executive remuneration are often tax-related. Executives will often request that compensation arrangements be structured in a manner that is most tax-efficient for them, and employers will frequently attempt to accommodate these requests. In order to do so, of course, it is critical that employers understand the tax rules that apply in a particular situation. To that end, this book attempts to highlight differences in taxation (both in terms of the taxes owed by employees, as well as the taxes owed – or tax deductions taken – by employers), which can be the result of:
- a the nationality or residency status of the executives;
- b the jurisdiction in which the executives render their services;
- c the form in which executives are paid (e.g., cash, equity (whether vested or unvested) or equity-based awards);
- d the time at which the executives are paid, particularly if they are not paid until after they have ‘earned’ the remuneration; and
- e the mechanisms by which executives are paid (e.g., outright payment, through funding of trusts or other similar vehicles or through personal services corporations).
In addition to matters relating to the taxation of executive remuneration, employment law frequently plays a critical role in governing executives’ employment relationships with their employers. There are a number of key employment law-related aspects that employers should consider in this context, including:
- a the legal enforceability of restrictive covenants;
- b the legal parameters relating to wrongful termination, constructive dismissal or other similar concepts affecting an employee’s entitlement to severance on termination of employment;
- c any special employment laws that apply in connection with a change in control or other type of corporate transaction (e.g., an executive’s entitlement to severance or the mechanism by which an executive’s employment may transfer to a corporate acquirer); and
- d other labour-related laws (such as laws related to unions or works councils) that may affect the employment relationship in a particular jurisdiction.
The contours of these types of employment laws tend to be highly jurisdiction-specific and therefore it is particularly important that corporations have a good understanding of these issues before entering into any employment relationships with executives in any particular country.
Beyond tax and employment-related laws, there are a number of other legal considerations that corporations should take into account when structuring employment and executive remuneration arrangements. Frequently, these additional considerations will relate to the tax or employment law issues already mentioned, but it is important they are still borne in mind. For example, when equity compensation is used, many jurisdictions require that the equity awards be registered (or qualify for certain registration exemptions) under applicable securities laws. These rules tend to apply regardless of whether a company is publicly or privately held. In addition to registration requirements, it is critical for both employers and employees to understand any legal requirements that apply in respect of executives’ holding, selling or buying equity in their employers.
Given the heightened focus in many jurisdictions on executive remuneration practices in recent decades – both in terms of public policy and public perception – the application of corporate governance principles to executive compensation decisions is crucial to many companies. Decisions about conforming to best practices in the field of executive remuneration may have substantial economic consequences to companies and their shareholders and executives. Corporate governance rules principally fall into two categories. The first concerns the approvals required for compensatory arrangements; a particular remuneration arrangement may require the approval of the company’s board of directors (or a committee thereof). In recent years, many jurisdictions have adopted either mandatory or advisory ‘say on pay’ regimes, in which shareholders are asked for their view on executive remuneration. The second concerns the public disclosure requirements applicable to executive remuneration arrangements; companies should be aware of any disclosure requirements that may become applicable as a result of establishing a new business within a particular jurisdiction, and in fact may wish to structure new remuneration arrangements with these disclosure regimes in mind.
Finally, the focus on executive remuneration in the financial services industry continues to be intense almost a decade after the last global financial crisis. The change in the US administration and Brexit could have a continued impact on the way in which regulation in this area will develop.
We hope that readers find the following discussion of the various tax, statutory, regulatory and supervisory rules and authorities instructive.
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP