PART II - EXAMPLES - CLAWBACKS FOR STARTUP STOCK - CAN I KEEP WHAT I THINK I OWN?

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsel founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

These are some examples of claw-backs that limit the value of a startup equity grant. For more on the issue, please see CLAWBACKS FOR STARTUP STOCK - CAN I KEEP WHAT I THINK I OWN? These are a few (of many) ways startups can reserve the right to take back the value of vested shares or options.

Equity Incentive Plan I

The company reserves the right to include clawbacks for vested shares upon an individual's termination of employment:

Repurchase Right. The Company (and other designated Persons) may repurchase any or all of the shares of Stock granted to a Participant pursuant to an Award or acquired by the Participant pursuant to the exercise of a Stock Option upon such Participant’s termination of employment with, or Service to, the Company for any reason to the extent such a right is provided in an Award Agreement or other applicable agreement between the Company and the Participant.

Such terms could be included in any agreement with the individual, such as a Stock Option Grant Notice, a Stock Option Agreement, a Stock Option Exercise Agreement, a Termination and Release or Severance Agreement, a Restricted Stock Agreement, an RSU Agreement, an Employment or IP Agreement, or a Stockholders' Agreement.

Equity Incentive Plan II

The company reserves the right to implement a policy in the future to clawback vested or unvested shares, and you’re agreeing that such a change will apply retroactively to your shares:

Clawback Policy.  The Awards granted under this Plan are subject to the terms of the Corporation’s recoupment, clawback or similar policy as it may be in effect from time to time, as well as any similar provisions of applicable law, any of which could in certain circumstances require repayment or forfeiture of Awards or any shares of Common Stock or other cash or property received with respect to the Awards (including any value received from a disposition of the shares acquired upon payment of the Awards).

Stock Option Agreement

The company reserves the right to change its bylaws in the future to clawback vested or unvested shares, and you’re agreeing that such a change will apply retroactively to your shares:

Right of Repurchase. To the extent provided in the Company’s bylaws in effect at such time the Company elects to exercise its right, the Company will have the right to repurchase all or any part of the shares of Common Stock you acquire pursuant to the exercise of your option.

These two terms allowing retroactive changes push the limits of Delaware law on company repurchase rights. However, I advise my clients to negotiate these out of their documents before joining a company to avoid litigation at a later date.

Restricted Stock Unit Grant Notice

In order to vest RSUs, the time-based vesting requirement (the "Time Condition") must be met, and the Company must have an IPO or a Change of Control (the "Performance Vesting") prior to the 7 year expiration period of the RSU.  This is a normal structure for a startup RSU grant due to tax planning. However, in this case, if the IPO or Change of Control does not occur within 3 years of the individual's last date of employment, the RSUs are cancelled and never vest:

Vesting Conditions. Any Restricted Stock Units that have satisfied the Time Condition as of such date shall remain subject to the Performance Vesting set forth in Section 2(b) above, but shall expire and be of no further force or effect on the first to occur of (a) three years after date on which the Grantee’s Service Relationship with the Company terminates, or (b) the Expiration Date.

Employment and Confidentiality Agreement

The company reserves the right to terminate vested options in the event of a breach of the agreement:

Breach of Confidentiality Agreement. If the Optionee breaches the provisions of the Confidentiality Agreement, then any outstanding Options held by such Optionee at the actual time of such termination shall thereupon expire, terminate and be cancelled in respect of all vested and unvested Option Shares.

Breach of Non-Competition and Non-Solicitation Covenant. If the Optionee breaches the Non-Competition and Non-Solicitation Agreement, then any outstanding Options held by such Optionee at the actual time of such termination shall thereupon expire, terminate and be cancelled in respect of all vested or unvested Option Shares.

While these two examples from employment and confidentiality agreements apply to restrictions on exercising options, similar terms may also apply to repurchase or forfeiture of vested shares for violations of such agreements even after termination of employment.

Wrapping Up

These are only a few examples of how clawbacks might appear in an equity offer. For more information on evaluating the terms of a startup equity grant, please see THE GOLD STANDARD OF STARTUP EQUITY - A GUIDE FOR EMPLOYEES. For more information on how clawbacks limit the value of startup equity, please see CLAWBACKS FOR STARTUP STOCK - CAN I KEEP WHAT I THINK I OWN?

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsel founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

THANK YOU

Thank you to JD McCullough for editing this post. He is a health tech entrepreneur, interested in connecting and improving businesses, products, and people.