The Government thinks that employees who own shares in their employing company feel more involved in that business and hence are happy and loyal employees. So it has introduced a new share scheme from 1st September 2013 which allows you, as an employer, to give your employees tax-free shares in your company, but in return the employees must give up some key employment rights.
How does this work?
The employee must sign a fresh employment contract called an ’employee shareholder’ contract, then they must be issued with shares worth at least £2,000 (and up to £50,000) in their employing company. When the individual sells those shares any gain arising on that disposal is completely exempt from capital gains tax. However, any gain up to £10,900 (for 2013/14) would be tax free anyway.
Normally where shares are awarded to an employee their value is treated as taxable income for that employee, unless the shares are issued under an approved share scheme. In this case the first £2,000 worth of shares awarded will be free of income tax and NIC, but not any further shares.
The downside is the employee must surrender all of following rights to take up employee shareholder status and receive the free shares:
- compensation for unfair dismissal, apart from when this is automatically unfair or relates to anti-discrimination law;
- request for time off for studying or training;
- request for flexible working; and
- statutory redundancy pay.
Also the employee must give 16 weeks’ notice (instead of 8 weeks) when returning from maternity or adoption leave.
This sounds like an attractive deal for an entrepreneur who doesn’t care about his own employment rights. However, any person who holds 25% or more of the company (alone or with associates) can’t take up employee shareholder status and enjoy the tax-free shares. So this share scheme can only be used to give shares to employees who don’t already have a significant share in the company.
Before implementing this scheme you should take employment law advice, and specialist advice on how to value your company’s shares. The employees should also take independent advice before signing away their employment rights, but you, as their employer, can pay for that advice with no tax consequences.