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. Employees who are granted stock options hope to profit by exercising their options at a higher price than when they were granted.
Employee Stock Options Plans should not be confused with the term "ESOPs," or Employee Stock Ownership Plans, which are retirement plans.
Here’s an example of a typical employee stock option plan: an employee is granted the option to purchase 1,000 shares of the company’s stock at the current market price of $5 per share (the "grant" price). The employee can exercise the option at $5 per share—typically the exercise price will be equal to the price when the options are granted. Plans allow employees to exercise their options after a certain number of years or when the company’s stock reaches a certain price. If the price of the stock increases to $20 per share, for example, the employee may exercise his or her option to buy 1,000 shares at $5 and then sell the stock at the current market price of $20.
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.