Q. We have a terminally ill employee who has stock in the company. Given these extenuating and sad circumstances, should we make an exception to the schedule and vest his options early so that his family may receive the money? Should we make this change one time or should we institute a new policy?
—Chief Human Resource Officer of a publicly traded company
We live in a world where a crack can become a crevice really easily. Dealing with any loss is a terrible thing and having it happen when someone is responsible for other family members can be devastating. I’ve had this happen to me—I lost my father and my family lost its financial security when I was seven—and it changed my outlook on everything.
As difficult as this particular situation is, you know there will be other difficult situations. Therefore, I think you are right in asking about changing the policy overall. It is better to have mechanisms in place that you can design in calm moments. It is harder to make decisions in emotional times. As we all know, things can feel messy and chaotic when you are in the middle of the fray. It’s best to be able to come up with a plan when you have the time and space to think through all the variables.
Right now, take care of your terminally ill employee and the family. Time is of the essence. Make a formal request to immediately accelerate the vesting schedule, so they will benefit. Determine how you will communicate what you are doing with the family.
Next, instead of having to make an exception to the policy in the future, address it now. Design a policy that is thoughtful and fair, perhaps vesting half the equity that has not vested up to a certain point, and make it inclusive for all employees who own stock but are not executive officers (these people should already have financial mechanisms in place to benefit their families). Get everything organized so you can provide the appropriate support and compassion when your people are faced with tragedy.
I am very sorry for what your employee and all of you are going through. May you find comfort and peace that comes with doing the right thing.