Introduction to Employee Share Option Plans (ESOPs)

14 Feb 2024

ESOPs are a highly effective tool in Australia for motivating employees and driving productivity and efficiency. By giving employees a stake in the company’s success, ESOPs are a popular choice for businesses looking to expand both domestically and internationally. They can help organisations reach their goals faster, increase productivity, and retain top talent.

At BoardRoom, our experienced ESOP team can confidently manage all aspects of employee share option schemes, whether your business is based in Australia or operating globally. From initial design to ongoing administration, we have the expertise and experience to support your organisation’s growth.

Definition and purpose of ESOPs

Employee Share Option Plans (ESOPs) are a popular type of employee benefit plan in Australia that gives employees a stake in the company they work for. This can be through owning shares of the company’s stock directly or through a trust. ESOPs serve as a way to align the interests of your employees with the company, promoting a sense of ownership and motivation to work towards its success.

The main purpose of ESOPs is to attract and retain top talent. In today’s competitive job market, candidates are looking for long-term incentives and opportunities for growth. Offering an ESOP can make a company more appealing to potential employees, showcasing their commitment to the success and growth of their workforce.

Establishing an Employee Share Option Plan

When establishing your employee share option plan, there are several factors you should consider.

Clarity: First and foremost, both you and your employees must have a clear understanding of the company’s goals and objectives for implementing an ESOP. This will help determine the type of plan that best suits the company’s needs and aligns with its overall strategy. In addition, prepare a clear communication plan to educate your employees about the ESOP and its benefits to ensure that employees understand the plan and are motivated to participate.

Eligibility Criteria: As a business owner, you should also consider the eligibility criteria for employees to participate in the ESOP. This can include factors such as length of employment, job position, and performance metrics. It is crucial to have a fair and transparent process for selecting employees to participate in the plan.

ESOP Structure: You can choose from a variety of options, such as stock options, restricted stock, or stock appreciation rights. When deciding, carefully consider the tax implications and costs associated with each type of structure.

Read our comprehensive guide on how to implement Employee Share Option Plan within your company.

Benefits of ESOPs for companies and employees

Employee share plans offer numerous benefits for both your company and your employees.

Attract and retain top talent: In today’s competitive job market, candidates are looking for more than just a good salary and benefits package. They also want long-term incentives and opportunities for growth. By offering an ESOP, companies can showcase their commitment to their employees’ success and growth, making them a more appealing choice for potential candidates.

Increase motivation and productivity: When your employees have a financial stake in your company’s success, they are more likely to be motivated and work harder. This can lead to increased productivity and efficiency, benefiting the bottom line.

Align interests of employees and company: Employee share plans help align the interests of employees with your company’s goals. When employees have a stake in the company’s success, they are more likely to work towards its growth.

Reduce turnover costs: By retaining top talent and creating a committed workforce, you will save on the costs of recruiting, training, and onboarding new employees.

Tax benefits: Employee share option schemes may offer tax benefits for both your company and your employees, making it a cost-effective compensation option.

Risks and Challenges of Employee Share Option Plans

While ESOPs offer numerous benefits, there are also risks and challenges that you should consider before implementing them for your company in Australia.

Potential dilution of ownership: As employees receive stock through an ESOP, their ownership stake in the company increases, potentially diluting the ownership of existing shareholders. This can lead to conflicts of interest and challenges in decision-making.

Stock Volatility: Another risk is the potential for stock options to become worthless if the company’s stock price decreases. This can be demotivating for employees who were expecting a financial gain from their stock options.

Administration and Management: ESOPs also require significant administration and management, which can be a challenge for smaller companies with limited resources. It is crucial to have a dedicated team or seek external assistance to manage the plan effectively.

Compliance: Additionally, there may be tax implications for both the company and employees, and it is essential to carefully consider these before implementing an ESOP.

Tax Treatment of Employee Share Option Plans in Australia

The tax treatment of employee share option plans (ESOPs) in Australia varies depending on the specific structure of the plan. Generally, the tax treatment is determined by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Employers are required to report the taxable value of the employee share options to the tax authorities and provide employees with the documentation for tax reporting purposes.

For Employer

Employers embarking on ESOPs must comply with reporting requirements and report the taxable value of employee share options to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

Shares or options granted to employees through an ESOP are considered as wages for payroll tax purposes. During the vesting period, it is not acceptable to use the pro-rata method to calculate taxable values for employees who provide services both in Australia and overseas.

Regardless of whether they have actually vested, shares or options are considered to have vested or become taxable after a period of seven years from the grant date. Employers have the opportunity to claim a refund if taxable values that were initially declared for payroll tax at the grant date are subsequently cancelled or rescinded.

For Employee

Employee tax returns must include the total taxable amount, particularly if there is no Real Risk of Forfeiture on the option. Income tax is paid when assessing the annual tax return.

Qualified stock options are taxed upon the sale of shares, with Capital Gains Tax (CGT) calculated accordingly. However, if the shares are held for at least 12 months before being sold, they may be eligible for a 50% discount on the capital gains tax.

If the employee disposes of the interest within 30 days of exercise or vesting, the deferred taxing point is moved to the time of disposal. There is no gain on the sale as the assessable income is calculated using the market value of the interest at the deferred taxing point.

Employees can receive a tax-free discount of up to 15% on share purchases. Each year, up to $1,000 worth of shares can be granted as a tax-free benefit, subject to meeting income test requirements and other eligibility criteria outlined in the Employee Share Scheme (ESS) by the Australian Taxation Office.

Why Choose BoardRoom?

Consider BoardRoom as your go-to provider for employee share option plans in Australia. With over 50 years of experience in the industry and a proven track record of successfully implementing these plans, we have served over 7,300 clients in Asia-Pacific. Our extensive knowledge and expertise in the local market allow us to offer customised solutions that cater to your specific needs.

BoardRoom also offers a comprehensive range of services, including:

Contact us today to unlock the benefits of Employee Share Option Plans (ESOPs) for your employees!

Contact BoardRoom for more information:

David Park

Business Development Manager
+61 2 9290 9658