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Employee Stock Options Plans

Employee Stock Options Plans

Many companies use employee stock options plans to compensate, retain, and attract employees. These plans are contracts between a company and its employees that give employees the right to buy a specific number of the company’s shares at a fixed price within a certain period of time. The fixed price is often called the grant or exercise price.  Employees who are granted stock options hope to profit by exercising their options to buy shares at the exercise price when the shares are trading at a price that is higher than the exercise price.

Companies sometimes revalue the price at which the options can be exercised. This may happen, for example, when a company’s stock price has fallen below the original exercise price. Companies revalue the exercise price as a way to retain their employees.

If a dispute arises about whether an employee is entitled to a stock option, the SEC will not intervene. State law, not federal law, covers such disputes.

Unless the offering qualifies for an exemption, companies generally use Form S-8 to register the securities being offered under the plan. On the SEC’s EDGAR database, you can find a company’s Form S-8, describing the plan or how you can obtain information about the plan.

Employee stock options plans should not be confused with the term "ESOPs," or employee stock ownership plans, which are retirement plans.


The Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has provided this information as a service to investors.  It is neither a legal interpretation nor a statement of SEC policy.  If you have questions conce