Yesterday, I blogged on the SEC’s approval of the final rules on the CEO pay ratio rules of the Dodd-Frank Act. For most companies, the pay ratio disclosure will not appear until the 2018 proxy statement (for the fiscal year ending in 2017). Thus, there is no need to push the panic button on this issue. More appropriately, companies should begin to consider the action steps necessary to comply with the rules, possibly including the following:
1. Brief the board and/or compensation committee as to the final rules and the action steps. Press coverage of the rules has been extensive. They are likely to ask.
2. Each company may select a methodology to identify its median employee based on the company’s facts and circumstances, including total employee population, a statistical sampling of that population, or other reasonable methods. We expect that the executive compensation professionals in the accounting and consulting firms very soon will be rolling out available methodologies (they began this process when the rules were proposed two years ago). The company will be required to describe the methodology it used to identify the median employee and any material assumptions, adjustments (including cost-of-living adjustments), or estimates used to identify the median employee or to determine annual total compensation.
3. As I noted yesterday, the rules confirm that companies may use reasonable estimates when calculating any elements of the annual total compensation for employees other than the CEO (with disclosure). Assess your ability to calculate precisely all items of compensation or whether reasonable estimates may be appropriate for some elements.
The company will be required to identify clearly any estimates it uses.
4. Begin to evaluate possible testing dates. The final rules allow a company to select a date within the last three months of its last completed fiscal year on which to determine the employee population for purposes of identifying the median employee. The company would not need to count individuals not employed on that date.
5. Consider work-force restructuring (in connection with the selection of a testing date). The rules allow a company to omit from its calculation any: (i) individuals employed by unaffiliated third parties, (ii) independent contractors, or (iii) employees obtained in a business combination or acquisition for the fiscal year in which the transaction becomes effective. Finally, the rule allows companies to annualize the total compensation for a permanent employee who did not work for the entire year, such as a new hire. The rules prohibit companies from full-time equivalent adjustments for part-time workers or annualizing adjustments for temporary and seasonal workers when calculating the required pay ratio.
As I noted yesterday, the rules permit the company to identify its median employee once every three years, unless there has been a change in its employee population or employee compensation arrangements that would result in a significant change in the pay ratio disclosure.
6. Determine whether any of your non-U.S. employees are employed in a jurisdiction with data privacy laws that make the company unable to comply with the rule without violating those laws. The rules only allow a company to exclude employees in these countries. (The rules require a company to obtain a legal opinion on this issue.)
7. The rules only allow a company to exclude up to 5% of the company’s non-U.S. employees (including any non-U.S. employees excluded using the data privacy exemption). Consider which non-U.S. employees to exclude.
8. The rules allow companies to supplement the required disclosure with a narrative discussion or additional ratios. Any additional discussion and/or ratios would need to be clearly identified, not misleading, and not presented with greater prominence than the required pay ratio.
Still more to come on this issue in future posts.