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But if these conditions are not met, a number of negative consequences can result, depending on the individual circumstances of the practice at issue.

Options that are granted at less than fair market value result in higher levels of compensation expense.

The stock plans of many public companies prohibit the granting of below-market options; other companies disclose in their SEC reports that stock options are granted at market and prepare their financial statements on that basis.

The term “backdating” refers to a number of option granting practices in which the reported grant date is different from the date on which the option is actually awarded, resulting in an option that is already “in-the-money” at the time of the grant.

The practice of “backdating” stock option grants has recently captured the attention of regulators, prosecutors, the plaintiffs’ bar, shareholders and the media.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division and the offices of the United States Attorney are investigating the option granting practices of dozens of companies and actions taken by their executives.

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox recently stated that the proposed SEC rules on disclosure of executive compensation will “almost certainly address options backdating explicitly.” I. Companies have considerable discretion in determining the timing of stock option awards.

Options granted as of the commencement of employment based on the market price as of the date of acceptance may be problematic if the plan does not permit below-market grants or the grant is not treated as a discounted option for accounting and tax purposes.

An option granted at less than fair market value will not qualify as an incentive stock option and therefore generally will be subject to income tax and withholding requirements upon exercise of the option.

An option granted at less than fair market value will also not qualify as “performance based compensation” and thus must count toward the

Options granted as of the commencement of employment based on the market price as of the date of acceptance may be problematic if the plan does not permit below-market grants or the grant is not treated as a discounted option for accounting and tax purposes.

An option granted at less than fair market value will not qualify as an incentive stock option and therefore generally will be subject to income tax and withholding requirements upon exercise of the option.

An option granted at less than fair market value will also not qualify as “performance based compensation” and thus must count toward the $1 million executive compensation deduction cap under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Several companies have expressed their intent to restate financial statements due to option timing issues, and opportunistic attorneys have already filed derivative and class action lawsuits.

The author of the academic study who is credited with focusing regulators on this issue estimates that at least 10% of “at-the-money” grants of options to CEOs between 19—before Sarbanes-Oxley shortened the reporting period for option grants—were backdated.

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Options granted as of the commencement of employment based on the market price as of the date of acceptance may be problematic if the plan does not permit below-market grants or the grant is not treated as a discounted option for accounting and tax purposes.An option granted at less than fair market value will not qualify as an incentive stock option and therefore generally will be subject to income tax and withholding requirements upon exercise of the option.An option granted at less than fair market value will also not qualify as “performance based compensation” and thus must count toward the $1 million executive compensation deduction cap under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code.Several companies have expressed their intent to restate financial statements due to option timing issues, and opportunistic attorneys have already filed derivative and class action lawsuits.The author of the academic study who is credited with focusing regulators on this issue estimates that at least 10% of “at-the-money” grants of options to CEOs between 19—before Sarbanes-Oxley shortened the reporting period for option grants—were backdated.State law and bylaw provisions as to the time of effectiveness of unanimous consents may be helpful in evaluating these issues. It is important to note that most of these practices are not inherently illegal.The practice of granting options in advance of the disclosure of positive news does not involve option backdating, but it is often discussed in the context of backdating and is also under scrutiny. If no documents are forged, and if practices are properly approved and disclosed, appropriately accounted for, properly treated for tax purposes and in accordance with the terms of the option plan, most option granting practices should fall safely within the law.Option grants to new employees have their own set of backdating issues.A company may want to give a new employee the benefit of any increase in the stock price from the date of acceptance of the employment offer.Options granted as of the date of employment acceptance are also troublesome if the plan does not permit grants to non-employees or if the additional tax and accounting issues relating to grants to non-employees are not adequately addressed.A company may decide to grant options on a specific date but the corporate formalities may not be completed until a later date.

million executive compensation deduction cap under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Several companies have expressed their intent to restate financial statements due to option timing issues, and opportunistic attorneys have already filed derivative and class action lawsuits.

The author of the academic study who is credited with focusing regulators on this issue estimates that at least 10% of “at-the-money” grants of options to CEOs between 19—before Sarbanes-Oxley shortened the reporting period for option grants—were backdated.

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