Executive Compensation

As 2018 draws to a close, both Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis are in the process of updating their 2019 proxy voting guidelines.

In mid-October, ISS launched its 2019 benchmark voting policy consultation period, pursuant to which ISS solicits feedback on certain of its proposed voting policies for the upcoming proxy season.  This year, ISS requested comment on proposed policies for U.S. public companies related to board gender diversity and its pay-for-performance model, as described in greater detail below.  ISS plans to announce its final policy changes in mid-November.

In addition, Glass Lewis recently released its 2019 shareholder initiatives and proxy voting guidelines, which include the implementation of previously announced policies that were in grace periods, new policies and codifications and clarifications of previously existing approaches to issuing vote recommendations.[1]

A summary of notable executive compensation and governance updates is provided below.  The recent policy updates, and in particular the new Glass Lewis guidelines, are fairly extensive.  In preparing for the 2019 proxy season, U.S. public companies should consider the applicability of the new and proposed policies in light of their individual facts and circumstances.
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Last month, former Uber executive Eric Alexander filed a complaint (the “Complaint”) against another former Uber executive, Rachel Whetstone.  The Complaint alleges breach of a mutual non-disparagement clause in Whetstone’s separation agreement with Uber; a clause that Whetstone, during her negotiation with Uber, apparently insisted specifically name Alexander and preclude them from disparaging each other.  In the Complaint, Alexander alleges that he is a third party beneficiary of the contract and can therefore enforce the non-disparagement obligation against Whetstone.

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On August 21, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued Notice 2018-68 (the “Notice”), which provides initial guidance on the application of Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code, as amended by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”).

The guidance is limited to the definition of the term “covered employees” and the application

During the course of the last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) brought two enforcement actions related to inadequate disclosure of perquisites.  In early July, the SEC issued an order finding that, from 2011 through 2015, an issuer failed to follow the SEC’s perquisite disclosure standard,[1] which resulted in a failure to disclose approximately $3 million in named executive officer perquisites.[2]   In addition to the imposition of a $1.75 million civil penalty, the SEC order mandated that the issuer retain an independent consultant (at its own expense) for a period of one year to conduct a review of its policies, procedures, controls and training related to the evaluation of whether payments and expense reimbursements should be disclosed as perquisites, and to adopt and implement all recommendations made by such consultant.
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In recent years, shareholder plaintiffs have brought a series of claims before the Delaware Court of Chancery alleging that directors of Delaware companies have abused their discretion in granting themselves excessive equity compensation for their board service.  These cases raised the threshold question of whether the plaintiffs’ challenges should be reviewed under the “entire fairness” standard, which requires the company to bear the burden of proving that the director awards were fair, or the more deferential “business judgment” standard, which grants considerable discretion to directors’ decisions, often resulting in dismissal of claims that fail to plead particularized facts indicating fiduciary lapses by the directors.
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Following the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “TCJA”) in late December 2017, which introduced significant reforms to the U.S. tax system, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued new withholding guidance in January 2018.[1]  Recently, two Democratic legislators have openly questioned whether the IRS’ 2018 withholding tables may result in systematic under-withholding of W-2 earnings.  Companies will need to comply with the IRS withholding guidance, through administrative procedures that are typically the responsibility of payroll departments and outside payroll service providers.  Companies may also be concerned about the consequences of under-withholding from an employee-relations perspective.
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2017 began with a heightened level of uncertainty as the beginning of the year brought significant change in the legal environment, including a change in administration that promised to significantly alter the tenor of regulation. While certain changes did occur in 2017, in many respects, 2018 is setting itself up as the year to watch

On December 5, 2017, the Financial Reporting Council launched a consultation on its proposal to significantly revise the UK Corporate Governance Code.

The amendments seek to encourage continued improvement in the quality of corporate governance in the UK and are centered around the themes of company culture and diversity, employee and other stakeholder representation, responding

The recently proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”) includes executive compensation tax reforms that, if enacted, would have significant implications for the way in which companies structure their compensation programs.

The Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on November 2, 2017, and may undergo significant revisions as part of the