As 2020 comes to an end, we are happy to present our traditional End of Year Plan Sponsor “To Do” Lists. We are publishing our “To Do” Lists in four separate Employee Benefits Updates. Part 1 covered year-end health and welfare plan issues, Part 2 covered the annual cost of living adjustments, and this Part 3 covers executive compensation issues. Each Employee Benefits Update provides a “To Do” List of items to consider taking action on before the end of 2020 or in early 2021. As always, we appreciate your relationship with Snell & Wilmer and hope that these “To Do” Lists can help focus your efforts over the next few months.
Part 3 - Executive Compensation “To Do” List
- Last Chance to Correct Certain Section 409A Document Failures Discovered in 2020: Although not specifically addressed in the Section 409A regulations, some commentators believe that Section 409A document failures can be corrected in years in which the deferred amounts are not yet vested or for which the substantial risk of forfeiture (or contingency upon which the compensation is paid) has not yet occurred. Accordingly, Section 409A document failures discovered in 2020 may be corrected prior to December 31, 2020 without taxes and penalties if the deferred compensation amounts remain unvested through December 31, 2020. To take advantage of this correction opportunity, among other requirements, the amounts in question must remain unvested for the balance of 2020 and the correction must occur prior to the date the compensation vests. Plan sponsors may wish to correct unvested amounts in accordance with the procedure set forth in Section VII of the proposed clarifications to the Section 409A Regulations, which were issued on June 22, 2016. Although these proposed regulations are not final, the preamble to the proposed regulations provides that plan sponsors may rely on the proposed regulations before the IRS releases final clarifying regulations.
- Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Deferral Elections Should be Made on or Before December 31, 2020: Section 409A generally requires that compensation deferrals under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan be made before the year in which the underlying services are performed. There are some exceptions to this general rule, but employers should be mindful that Section 409A imposes strict requirements on the timing of compensation deferral elections and that most deferrals of compensation to be earned in 2021 must be made on or before December 31, 2020.
- Take Certain Action to Address Impact of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Section 162(m) of the Code: As explained in more detail in prior SW Benefits Updates, "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Implications for Public Company Executive Compensation Programs" and "The IRS’ Initial 162(m) Transition Guidance is Finally Here," the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expanded the definition of “covered employee” and eliminated the performance-based compensation exception to Section 162(m) of the Code for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, subject to a transition rule for written binding contracts in effect as of November 2, 2017 that are not materially modified thereafter. Based on the IRS guidance that has been released to date, public companies that are adopting or amending equity-based compensation plans in 2021, including amendments that increase the size of share pools, may wish to remove plan provisions that were solely designed to facilitate compliance with the performance-based compensation exception (e.g., a public company may consider eliminating legacy provisions that prohibit compensation committee from increasing the amount payable pursuant to an award).
- Certain Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plans Must be Amended Before December 31, 2020: Very few nonqualified deferred compensation plans include language that require delays in payment for deferred compensation amounts if making such payments would not be deductible under Section 162(m) of the Code. Employers that sponsor deferred compensation plans with such language should consider deleting the mandated delay language prior to December 31, 2020. Applicable guidance provides that removing such provisions prior to December 31, 2020 will not be treated as an impermissible acceleration under Section 409A of the Code.
- Review Whether Your Equity-Based Compensation Plan Has Sufficient Shares Remaining for 2021 Awards: Employers should review share pool information to determine whether the equity plan has a sufficient number of shares available for upcoming awards. If additional shares are needed, employers should submit the increase for shareholder approval at the 2021 annual meeting.
- Review Director Pay Practices and Consider Separate Annual Limits on Director Equity Awards: In light of the settlement of In re: Investors Bancorp, Inc. Stockholder Litigation and increased scrutiny from Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) on director compensation, public company employers may wish to use the remainder of 2020 and the first part of 2021 as an opportunity to revisit their processes for establishing director compensation. Public company employers that are adopting or amending equity-based compensation plans in 2021 might consider adopting formula plans, adding separate, meaningful annual limits on director equity awards, and/or enhancing the disclosures and the rationale and process underlying their director compensation programs. More on the Investors Bancorp settlement can be found in our SW Benefits Blog, “Director Compensation Update.” We also note that ISS will make its first adverse recommendations related to excessive non-employee director pay beginning with meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2020.
- Code Section 6039 Information Statements Due by January 31, 2021: Section 6039 of the Code requires companies to file a return and provide a written information statement to each employee or former employee regarding: (1) the transfer of stock pursuant to the exercise of an Incentive Stock Option (“ISO”); and (2) the transfer by the employee or former employee of stock purchased at a discount under an Employee Stock Purchase Plan (“ESPP”). For ISO grants and ESPP transfers occurring in 2020, Section 6039 information statements must be provided no later than January 31, 2021.
- Restore COVID-19 Related Salary Reductions Before March 15, 2021: Employers that reduced base salary amounts in response to COVID-19 should consider restoring such salaries prior to March 15, 2021 if the employee has a legally binding right to the salary restoration. The failure to restore base salary prior to such date may result in complications under Section 409A of the Code depending on the circumstances.
- Revisit Other COVID-19 Related Compensation Decisions: ISS and Glass Lewis have published a series of guidance related to COVID-19 compensation decisions and we have described that guidance in prior SW Benefits Updates here, here, here and here. Public company employers that have taken the COVID-19 related compensation actions (or analogous actions) described in the guidance should consider evaluating such decisions against such guidance and determine if such decisions remain appropriate. Similarly, such companies might consider reviewing their executive compensation disclosure from last year’s filings and consider how they will frame and disclose any compensation related decisions that were made in response to COVID-19.