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Accelerated Vesting may Mean Little if Your Employer is Acquired

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This post is adapted from a question that I answered on Quora. Q. How can an acquirer make an employee with single-trigger vesting commit to a “lock-up” period to receive all his shares? Say you’re an engineer at a just-acquired startup with 0.5% of the old company, and your shares fully vested upon acquisition. The acquirer’s terms were that current employees get 50% of their payout up front, and 50% if they stay on board for 5 years. How is that possible, legally?

A. It is difficult to provide a definitive answer without looking at the relevant documents. However, I suspect that this situation is possible because 50/50 pertains to shares in the acquiring company rather than the acquired company.

In my experience, acquired companies will put some effort into converting employee equity interests directly into comparable interests in the acquiring company, but there is no guarantee this will happen.

So you may (I can’t be sure, not having reviewed the documents) have a choice: Keep your 0.5% fully-vested interest in the acquired company (which is likely to have little, if any, market value in the foreseeable future), or accept the 50/50 conversion to an equity interest in the acquiring company.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law? +1 510 547-0545? dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

Stock is Great – but Don’t Give It Away Too Quickly!

Most startups and early-stage companies have limited cash. As a result, they often are eager to use stock as a major component of? compensation. They need to make sure, however, that personnel stick around long enough to make the contributions for which they are being compensated.

In some instances, the corporation creates a tax-qualified incentive stock option plan. Employees are granted options to purchase stock, and they do not have to pay any tax on the stock (actually, on profits from their sale of the stock) until they exercise the option (purchase the stock, presumably, at a low price) and, later, sell the stock. (Tax law is less favorable to independent contractors.)

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