Executive Compensation

On Friday, December 15, the U.S. House of Representative and Senate conferees reached agreement on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) (the “Final Bill”), and released legislative text, an explanation, and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated budget effects (commonly referred to as the “score”).  Next week the House and Senate are each expected to pass the bill, and it is expected to be sent to the President for signature the following week.  As the conferees actually signed the conference text, changes (even of a limited and/or technical nature) are extremely unlikely at this point.

The Final Bill largely follows the Senate bill, but with certain important differences.  We outline some of the most significant differences between the Final Bill, the earlier House bill, and the Senate bill.  We then discuss in detail some of the most significant provisions of the Final Bill.  The provisions discussed are generally proposed to apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, subject to certain exceptions (only some of which are noted below).  While we discuss some of these provisions in detail, we do not address all restrictions, exclusions, and various other nuances applicable to any given provision.

Under both the House and Senate versions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m) would be modified to expand the scope of companies and executive officers subject to the limitation on deductibility of compensation over $1 million, as well as to eliminate the exception to non-deductibility under Section 162(m) for qualified performance-based compensation. The changes would be effective for tax years after 2017, but under the Senate bill, binding contracts in effect on November 2, 2017 would be grandfathered if not materially modified on or after that date).  Each version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would also generally lower the corporate tax rate to 20%.  The House bill reduces the corporate tax rate beginning in 2018 and the Senate reduces it beginning in 2019.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) (the “Senate bill”), just over two weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version of the same legislation (the “House bill”).  Members of the House and Senate will next convene in conference to attempt to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the legislation.  Identical versions of the bill must be passed by simple majorities in both the House and the Senate before the bill, and signed by President Trump, before such legislation will become law.

The final Senate bill, although similar to the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee on November 16, contains several important changes.  We outline some of the most significant changes below, followed by a list of some of the major outstanding points of difference between the House and Senate bills as passed by the respective chambers.  We then discuss in detail some of the most significant provisions of both bills.

On December 2, 2017, the Senate approved its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which contains proposals modifying certain executive compensation provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. The Senate’s approval of the executive compensation provisions follows substantively the same provisions proposed by the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, and

Yesterday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) (the “House bill”). The House bill is identical to the draft bill approved by the House Ways and Means Committee on November 10. Late last night the Senate Finance Committee approved its own conceptual version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. An initial, descriptive version of the Senate Finance Committee bill (for which actual statutory text is still forthcoming) prepared by the Joint Committee on Taxation (the “JCT”) was released on Thursday, November 9. The Senate Finance Committee subsequently revised the bill significantly, as reflected in the JCT descriptions of the modifications released on Tuesday, November 12, and a further amendment[1] released late last night (as modified, the “modified Senate bill” and generally, the “Senate bill”). The modified Senate bill varies in certain important respects from the House’s bill.

The modified Senate bill introduces significant changes to the Senate bill released last week. Perhaps most significantly, the modified Senate bill would repeal the provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring individuals without minimum health coverage to make “shared responsibility payments” (commonly referred to as the “individual mandate”). The modified Senate bill also provides for most changes to individual taxation to sunset after December 31, 2025, including the repeal of the individual AMT, the reduced rate for pass-through entities, the reductions in ordinary income tax rates and brackets, the repeal of itemized deductions, the increased standard deduction, and the expanded exemption for estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes. Notably, the reduced corporate rate cut of 20% (reduced from 35%) effective in 2019 would be permanent.

We have outlined below some of the significant changes in the latest draft of the Senate bill, and summarized the key differences between the modified Senate bill and the House bill. Because the Senate has not yet released legislative text, this summary is based only on the JCT’s descriptions of the Senate Finance Committee’s bill (in its original and modified form) and the November 16 amendment (as published on the Senate Finance Committee website).

On September 21, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted interpretive guidance regarding Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K, which governs pay ratio disclosure. The interpretive guidance is intended to provide assistance to companies choosing to use statistical sampling in determining their median employee. In the interpretive guidance, the

As part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act enacted in July 2010, Congress directed the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to adopt pay ratio disclosure requiring public companies to disclose the ratio between the annual total compensation of the median employee and the company’s principal executive officer (PEO), generally the company’s chief executive officer (CEO). The Pay Ratio rules required the SEC to amend Item 402 of Regulations S-K, related to company compensation disclosures. Item 402(u) requires companies to disclose:

  1. the median of the annual total compensation of all employees of the company (excluding the company’s PEO);
  2. the annual total compensation of the company’s PEO; and
  3. the ratio of the two amounts.

The IRS adopted final regulations that no longer require taxpayers who have made Internal Revenue Code §83(b) elections to attach a copy of the election to their annual federal income tax return.

Under §83, restricted stock granted in connection with the performance of services generally becomes taxable as ordinary income

In general, proposed rulemaking issued in December 2008 with respect to income inclusion under Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (available here) provides that if there is a Section 409A violation in a taxable year, all compensation deferred under the applicable nonqualified deferred compensation arrangement for that taxable year and all preceding years is includible in the service provider’s gross income to the extent not subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture (i.e., vested) and not previously included in gross income in a prior taxable year. Although the proposed income inclusion regulations appear to permit the correction of certain plan provisions that do not comply with Section 409A without penalty as long as the underlying amounts are unvested, they include certain anti-abuse provisions intended to prevent impermissible changes in the time or form of payment.

Pursuant to the final regulations under Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, a termination of employment generally occurs at such time as the employer and employee reasonably anticipate that the level of services to be performed after such time, whether as an employee or an independent contractor, would permanently decrease to no more than 20% of the average level of services performed over the immediately preceding 36-month period (or, if services were performed for less than 36 months, over the full period of services). Further, an independent contractor has a separation from service when there is a good faith and complete termination of the underlying contractual relationship.