As it does every year around this time of year, ISS posted its Policy
As it does every year around this time of year, ISS posted its Policy
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ISS Policy Updates for 2021

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November 18, 2020 

Deepest thanks to our friend and colleague Mike Melbinger

As it does every year around this time of year, ISS posted its Policy Updates for 2021. And as we do every year, we highlight the changes most relevant to compensation professionals below. Or rather, we would highlight them if there were any changes. The only mention of compensation comes in ISS general recommendations on Gender, Race/Ethnicity Pay Gaps, with respect to which ISS announces that it will vote case-by-case on requests for reports on a company’s pay data by gender or race/ ethnicity, or a report on a company’s policies and goals to reduce any gender or race/ethnicity pay gaps, taking into account: (i) the company’s disclosure regarding gender, race, or ethnicity pay gap policies or initiatives compared to its industry peers; (ii) the company’s current policies and disclosure related to both its diversity and inclusion policies and practices and its compensation philosophy on fair and equitable compensation practices; (iii) whether the company has been the subject of recent controversy, litigation, or regulatory actions related to gender, race, or ethnicity pay gap issues; and (iv) local laws regarding categorization of race and/or ethnicity and definitions of ethnic and/or racial minorities.
Consequently, the most significant information from ISS on cash and equity compensation issues for 2021 proxy statement remains the FAQs on U.S. Compensation Policies and the COVID-19 Pandemic, which ISS released in October, and we previously discussed here and here). As a recap, those changes are as follows:
  • Changes to Equity Plan Scorecard (EPSC): For the 2021 policy year, the passing score for the S&P 500 EPSC model will increase to 57 points. The passing score for the Russell 3000 EPSC model will increase to 55 points. For all other EPSC models, the passing score will remain 53 points. ISS made no changes to EPSC specifically related to the pandemic.

  • Changes to ISS’ SSOP Responsiveness Policy in Light of COVID-19: ISS may cut some slack to companies that received less than 70% support on the say-on-pay proposal, but are unable, due to the pandemic, to take actions or make changes to pay programs and practices to address the concerns of ISS and investors. However, in this case, the company’s proxy statement should disclose specifically how the pandemic has impeded the company’s ability to address shareholders’ concerns. If pay program changes are delayed, or do not necessarily fully address shareholder feedback, the company should disclose a longer-term plan on how it intends to address investors’ concerns.

  • Evaluation of COVID-Related Retention or Other One-Time Awards: ISS expects that companies that grant one-time awards to address concerns resulting from the pandemic, including awards with a retention component, will clearly disclose the rationale for the awards (including magnitude and structure), as well as describe how the award furthers investors’ interests. ISS will not view boilerplate language regarding “retention concerns” as sufficient rationale. ISS also expects that (i) awards will be reasonable in magnitude, (ii) the vesting conditions will be long-term, strongly performance-based, and linked to the underlying concerns the award, and (iii) the awards will include shareholder-friendly guardrails to avoid windfall scenarios, including limitations on termination-related vesting.

  • Evaluation Retention or Other One-Time Awards Granted in the Context of a Forfeited Incentive: ISS will look askance at awards granted as a replacement for forfeited performance-based awards. To the extent one-time awards are granted in the year (or following year) in which incentives are forfeited, ISS expects companies to explain the specific issues driving the decision to grant the awards and how the awards further investors’ interests.

  • Option Repricing: ISS also made no changes on option repricing programs, which case-by-case approach generally opposes repricings that occur within one year of a precipitous drop in the company’s stock price. If boards undertake repricing actions without seeking prior shareholder approval, the directors’ actions will remain subject to scrutiny under the U.S. policies on board accountability.
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