The Employee Ownership Update
March 1, 1998
IRS Changes Position on Sale of Unallocated ESOP SharesOne of the most troubling Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rulings on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) has been reversed. Under the old rules, if an ESOP sold unallocated shares, any amounts left over from the sale proceeds after the debt on those shares had been paid could be allocated to employee accounts. However, these allocations would count as "annual additions" and could not exceed the section 415 limits that restrict individual allocations to not more than 25% of pay (including allocations from other plan contributions). Since the amounts involved often would exceed these limits, trustees were put in a quandary. The IRS provided no guidance on what to do with the excess amounts, but any decision, such as transferring it to a successor plan at the new employer, would harm the interests of at least some participants. Basically, the IRS said this was not its problem.
In a technical assistance memorandum whose release data was not available at this writing, the IRS regained its senses and reversed this untenable position. It ruled that the excess amounts from the sale should be treated as earnings, and thus not be subject to the 415 limits. While a TAM does not have the force of regulations, the facts and circumstances of the company case that prompted the ruling are "plain vanilla" enough to suggest that this will be the approach in the future.
Japan Makes Stock Options PracticalUntil now, stock options in Japan were subject to so many constraints that they were virtually unused as employee compensation. In legislation passed in May, however, the rules have been significantly eased. Several companies have indicated they will now grant options to executives and will consider extending the grants significantly farther down the ranks in the future.
An article detailing the new changes by Bob Zukis of Coopers & Lybrand appeared in Benefits & Compensation International (September 1997).
Virginia Commission Recommends Promoting ESOPsThe Commonwealth Competition Council and the Secretary of Administration in Virginia have issued a report that recommends the state enact legislation to promote the use of ESOPs in the private sector and in the process of privatizing state-owned or operated entities. The report recommends that a state agency be assigned the task of finding ways to facilitate employee ownership through education, outreach, and technical support. The report also recommended funding feasibility studies on selected state functions that could be privatized through employee ownership.
Copies of the report can be obtained by writing the Commonwealth Competition Council, P.O.B. 1475, Richmond, VA 23212. Request the report entitled "Secretary of Administration and the Commonwealth Competition Council on Methods to Privatize Appropriate State Government Functions through the Development and Promotion of Employee-Owned Companies."