Employee Shareholders: It's Happening, but What Does it Mean?

by Morgan Lewis

New Growth and Infrastructure Act introduces employee shareholder provisions that are expected to come into force later this year.

On 25 April, the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013[1] came into effect and, among other things, introduced employee shareholder or "rights for shares" provisions that are expected to take effect this autumn in the UK. Broadly speaking, these provisions amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the ERA) to allow employees to give up some of their employment rights in exchange for shares in their employer company. However, in the absence of any additional guidance, the practical scope and impact of these changes remains unclear.

What We Do Know

Any company with share capital can enter into an agreement with an employee to allow them to become an "employee shareholder". An employee shareholder will receive fully paid-up company shares that have a value of no less than £2,000 on the day of issue.

In exchange, the employee shareholder will give up the right to

  • request to undertake study or training;
  • request flexible working;
  • not be unfairly dismissed; and
  • a redundancy payment.

Further, the notice that employee shareholders will need to give before returning to work after maternity, parental, paternity, or adoption leave will be increased to 16 weeks.

Employee shareholders cannot waive their right to claim unfair dismissal where their dismissal breaches the Equality Act 2010 or health and safety legislation or is automatically unfair under the ERA. However, employers can make a job offer contingent on an applicant agreeing to become an employee shareholder. If an applicant refuses to do so, the employer can simply withdraw the job offer.

Before becoming an employee shareholder, each employee (or applicant to whom a job has been offered) must receive independent legal advice paid for by the employer (up to a "reasonable" level). The employer must pay these legal costs whether or not an employee elects to become an employee shareholder. Employees and applicants will then be given a seven-day cooling-off period in which they can withdraw their agreement.

For any acceptance to be valid, the employer must have provided the employee with a statement of particulars that sets out, among other things, the following:

  • The rights the employee shareholder gives up
  • The rights attached to the shares, e.g., voting, dividend, and ability to participate in the distribution of any surplus assets on winding up
  • Whether there are any restrictions on the transferability of the shares
  • Whether the employee shares are subject to drag-along rights or tag-along rights

Finally, an employee must not suffer a detriment for refusing to accept an offer to become an employee shareholder. Moreover, the dismissal of an employee for refusing to become an employee shareholder will be regarded as unfair.

What We Do Not Know

Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) Transfers. If employee shareholders transfer across to an employer who does not operate an employee shareholder scheme or does not have any share capital, there is no guidance as to whether that employee shareholder automatically regains their rights or if they must surrender their shares first.

Share Schemes. It is not clear whether companies that operate share schemes can make it a precondition of future participation in any company share scheme that an employee becomes an employee shareholder.

Termination. On termination of the employment contract, a company can buy back shares from an employee shareholder. However, the conditions that must be satisfied before an employer buys back an employee's shares are still unknown.

Potential Impact on UK Employers

  • £2,000 seems a relatively small amount when weighed against the potential value of rights that would be forfeited by employee shareholders. Employers can give shares worth more than £2,000, and it is therefore possible that, once the provisions are in force, along with salary, the sticking point in contractual negotiations will be the value of the shares given. That said, any deviation from the £2,000 figure may give rise to significant tax complications.
  • The provisions could create a two-tier workforce of employee shareholders and non-employee shareholders, with the former potentially subject to enforced contractual changes and other less favourable treatment that would normally result in potential constructive unfair dismissal claims.
  • In theory, an employer undertaking a redundancy exercise could simply select employee shareholders as redundant to avoid any unfair dismissal risk and/or any need to make redundancy payments.
  • By making both job offers and participation in employee share schemes conditional upon an employee's accepting employee shareholder status, it is possible that some employers could significantly reduce and ultimately eradicate the risk of "pure" (i.e., non-discriminatory or non-whistleblowing related) unfair dismissal claims and the flexible working rights of their workforce.


If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Matthew Howse
Nick Thomas

[1]. View the Growth and Infrastructure Bill here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morgan Lewis | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Morgan Lewis

Morgan Lewis on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.