Stock options and stock grants have become normal and expected elements of executive compensation in Canada. Stock options are generally granted to executive employees as a means of creating a common purpose or goal between senior employees and the company. The valuation of these options, and the employee’s entitlement to exercise them, has been an issue in many wrongful dismissal actions.
Long gone are the days when employees would receive pay cheques at the end of the week and possibly a Christmas bonus each year. Compensation for employees, particularly senior employees, has become increasingly complex as employers seek to incent specific behaviours among their executives. In addition, changing tax laws and the wild gyrations of the stock markets have made stock options more difficult to administer and less appealing to employees.
In assessing either termination packages, or damages flowing from wrongful dismissal, counsel is often faced with a myriad of non salaried compensation payable to employees. This compensation includes items such as stock options, stock grants, non monetary benefits such as health and dental insurance, and bonuses. Over the years, the provisions of bonus plans have become more sophisticated, and more complicated. Employers have attempted, with the assistance of counsel, to include provisions for various contingencies in these bonus plans in order to better protect the employer. However, the more complicated the plan, the more difficult it is to assess whether or not a dismissed employee is, in fact, entitled to compensation for bonuses which might have been earned during the period of reasonable notice.