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
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