The terms of employment and remuneration of a large section of the Indian workforce
are governed by statutory employment laws. However, in most cases, senior executives are
exempt from the applicability of such employment laws and their terms of employment
and remuneration are ordinarily contractually driven. That said, based on the position in
which the senior executive is engaged, certain corporate and securities laws considerations
India revamped its law regulating companies in 2013 and the terms with respect to
executive remuneration were also closely reviewed as part of this exercise. The objectives
of ensuring transparency and parity in executive remuneration, however, have always been
discussed while keeping in mind the need to pay senior executives as per market standards
to attract the right talent. In this regard, Dr. Jamshed J. Irani’s Report on Company Law
dated 31 May 2005 highlighted the need for companies to adopt remuneration policies to
attract, retain and motivate executives to enhance the performance of the company and that
the decision on how to remunerate executives should be left up to the company. This report
further stated that this decision should be transparent and based on principles that ensure
fairness, reasonableness and accountability.
Executive remuneration (i.e., the remuneration of managing directors, key managerial
persons and managers) is governed by the Companies Act, 2013 (the Companies Act) and
the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The remuneration of senior executives
is typically a combination of fixed salary, incentives linked to individual and organisational
performance, and stock-linked incentives. Recent instances of financial and other impropriety by senior executives have significantly impacted companies, their reputation and their valuation. Organisations have now started evaluating compensation structures and reviewing terms of executive employment more closely. Consequently, more robust covenants are being included in employment documents to detail responsibilities, build in the required checks and balances, and highlight consequences of breach, such as including clauses to clawback bonuses and other discretionary payments.
This chapter seeks to highlight certain key issues that companies should keep in mind
when structuring executive compensation.
i. Income tax for employees
Income tax in India is levied by the Income Tax Act, 1961 (ITA), which follows a scheduler
approach to taxation of income. Residents are taxed on global income while non-residents
are taxed on Indian source income. Residency is based on a day count test. An intermediate
category of Resident but not Ordinarily Resident (RNoR) is available for transitory persons,
who are taxable only on Indian source income in spite of satisfying the residency test in a
given year. Further, a globally resident Indian citizen may be deemed to be resident in India
and taxable on Indian source income if such person is not liable to be taxed in any other
country. Citizenship, with some exceptions, is generally not relevant to the determination of
Whether income is considered to be of Indian source would depend on the nature of
income and whether it satisfies the relevant source ruling under the ITA. For example, capital
gains is considered to have its source in India if it derives from the transfer of a capital asset
situated in India, whereas employment income is taxable if the employment is rendered
in India, although this requirement may be subject to minimum periods of stay in India
under a relevant tax treaty. The rule for the business income of consultants and contractors
would depend on whether they are considered to be providing technical services. If not,
business income would only be considered to have an Indian source if there exists a business
connection in India (under the provisions of the ITA), or a permanent establishment or fixed
base in India (under a relevant tax treaty).
The maximum marginal tax rate applicable to the ‘total income’ (including salary
income) of individuals is 30 per cent. Individuals may be subject to a surcharge ranging from
10 per cent–37 per cent, which would result in an effective maximum rate of 42.74 per cent
in the highest band. All taxpayers including individuals are subject to a ‘cess’ (tax or levy) of
4 per cent over tax and surcharge. Capital gains are not subject to ordinary or progressive slab rates of income tax. Capital gains tax is levied at a flat rate, which may vary from zero per cent to 40 per cent, depending on the residence and type of the taxpayer, type of capital asset,
mode of transfer and the holding period of the asset.
Compensatory payments may be taxable either as employment income, if in
consideration for a relationship of employment, or as profits and gains of business and
profession, if in consideration of a consultancy or contractorship. A third possibility is capital
gains income, if the payment is structured as being due on redemption of a security held
by an individual. Typically, one of the objectives of equity incentive structuring will be to
try to accomplish capital gains treatment to the extent possible, as the rates are frequently
lower. Salary income is taxable at the earlier of receipt or accrual, whereas profits and gains
from business are taxable on an accrual or cash basis, depending on the nature of taxpayer
and system of accounting adopted. Capital gains, on the other hand, are taxable in the year
of transfer of shares, irrespective of when the consideration is received. This may create
characterisation difficulties in relation to deferred income such as earn-out payments, which
are paid over a period of time.
Equity incentives are frequently used in the Indian context, primarily comprising
employee stock options (ESOPs) or sweat equity. ESOPs are not taxable upon grant or
vesting. They are taxable upon exercise, at ordinary income tax rates, on the spread between
exercise price and the fair market value of the share issued upon exercise. Employees receive
a step up in basis (cost of acquisition) of the share and are required to pay a capital gains tax
on disposition of the share, on the difference between the stepped up cost of acquisition and the sale price of the share. The tax consequences on delivery of shares would be similar to
those described above, notwithstanding that they may be subject to forfeiture at some point
in the future, say upon termination of employment. This means that, if a share is issued to
an employee at lower than fair market value, he or she would be taxable on the difference
between price paid and the fair market value of the share, at ordinary rates applicable to salary income. When the share is subsequently forfeited, presumably for nil value or a very low value, the employee may claim a capital loss on the difference between fair market value (on the date of issuance) and price received.
ii. Social security benefits
The Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 (EPF Act) is the
primary social security legislation in India. This statute is applicable to employers with 20
or more employees and requires the employer and employee to make contributions to a
statutory retirement fund at the rate of 12 per cent of the basic wages, dearness allowance
and retaining allowance, capped at 15,000 rupees. Only employees who are earning less than
15,000 rupees per month or who are already existing members of the statutory fund are
mandatorily to be covered under the fund.
In this regard, courts have held that the term ‘basic wages’ would include all components
of wages that are universally paid, across the board to all employees. Therefore, any ad hoc
payments that may be specifically paid to certain employees would be exempt for the purposes of contributions to the provident fund.
Additionally, the EPF Act was amended in 2008 to bring within its purview
‘international workers’. An international worker, for the purpose of the statute, means (1) an
Indian employee having worked or going to work in a foreign country with which India has
entered into a social security agreement and being eligible to avail the benefits under a social
security programme of that country, by virtue of the eligibility gained or going to gain under
the said agreement; or (2) an employee other than an Indian employee, holding other than an
Indian passport, working for an establishment in India to which the EPF Act applies. Note
that the wage ceiling of 15,000 rupees mentioned above for computing contributions under
the EPF Act is not applicable to international workers.
In addition to the EPF Act, various states in India have enacted state-specific labour
welfare fund statutes that require employers and employees to make periodic contributions
to a state labour welfare fund. Further, India also provides for a statutory end of service
entitlement under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 (the Gratuity Act). This statute
prescribes compulsory gratuity payable by establishments where 10 or more persons are
employed or were employed on any day of the preceding 12 months. The Gratuity Act entitles
every employee who has completed five years of continuous service (taken as four years and
240 days for those with a six-day work week and four years and 190 days for those with a
five-day working week), upon termination of employment, to gratuity calculated at the rate
of 15 days’ wages, based on the rate of wages last drawn, for each year of completed service
or part thereof in excess of six months, currently subject to a maximum of 2 million rupees).
iii. Tax deductibility for employers
Remuneration paid to employees is generally deductible. This includes bonuses and
commissions, approved payments (within certain limits) towards gratuity, pensions, a
recognised provident fund or superannuation fund. Some exceptions where deductions are
not allowed are: if a salary is paid by an Indian employer to a non-resident outside India, without tax being deducted, or if a non-monetary perquisite is provided by the employer, in
which case the employer is liable to pay the tax, with the said perquisite being exempt in the
hands of the employee. Employers can claim the deduction on an accrual basis if they follow
the mercantile system of accounting (which companies are required to do) or on payment
basis if they follow the cash system of accounting, which is an option available to certain
employers such as sole proprietorships. However, even employers who follow the mercantile
system may be required to claim certain deductions on an actual payment basis, with examples being contribution to a provident fund or super annuation fund or sums payable in lieu of leave not taken by the employee. These deductions are subject to the employer complying with their withholding tax obligations on payments to employees.
iv. Other special rules
There are no specific rules applicable to employees in connection with a change in control.
However, where employees hold shares in an entity that undergoes a merger or demerger, and receive shares in a new entity in exchange for such shareholding, it should not result in tax consequences for the employees, provided that the restructuring is a tax qualifying merger or demerger under the ITA and relevant conditions are satisfied.
Payments towards enhanced health, life insurance or similar benefits are deductible
when made by employees, and may be deductible (in some circumstances) in the hands of
the employer, when made by the employer.
III. TAX PLANNING AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Structuring options such as personal service corporations are not common in the Indian
context, primarily because India follows the classical system of corporate taxation. This
means that the tax rate applicable to individuals (at a maximum rate of 42.7 per cent under
current law) would be more favourable than the tax rate applicable to distributions made by
a corporation (with the corporation paying tax at 25 per cent plus – 30 per cent surcharge
and cess and the shareholder paying tax at applicable personal tax rates on any dividends
received). Other forms of intermediate holding entity may also result in tax inefficiencies.
Personal holding companies are set up in some situations, for example by fund managers who are expected to receive a carried interest from an offshore fund, although these structures are becoming less common with the recent introduction of the Indian general anti-avoidance rule.
Trusts are commonly used in the Indian planning context, to provide an economic right
to the employee without a title to the underlying equity. This is particularly the case where
large numbers of employees are sought to be compensated. These trusts are generally set up
as determinate irrevocable trusts, which are considered tax transparent in India. Having said
this, it is important to be mindful of tax consequences while setting up a trust structure for
equity incentives, as tax can be levied at various stages, such as upon the trust if it is settled
for the benefit of non-relatives and receives shares at lower than fair market value.
Globally resident employees do also frequently consider secondment arrangements
when they take up employment in India as it enables them to receive their salary payment
outside India, subject to the payment of tax dues in India. In comparison, under Indian
exchange control provisions, Indian resident employees are required to repatriate to India any foreign exchange dues that may be payable to them, with certain exceptions.
It is relevant to examine the provisions of the applicable tax treaty while evaluating tax
consequences for a globally resident employee, as these will frequently provide for minimum thresholds of physical stay in India prior to the salary income being taxable in India. Provisions pertaining to taxation of dependent personal services in several treaties require a minimum period of stay of 183 days in India, in order for salary income to be taxable in India, as well as separate provisions relating to allocation of taxing rights over pensions and annuity. India has a large network of treaties, which tend to be broadly based on the OECD model treaty.
IV. EMPLOYMENT LAW
The terms of employment with senior executives are largely governed by contract, and therefore it is very important that the employment agreements be detailed with robust confidentiality, intellectual property assignment, termination rights and other relevant restrictive covenants.
We have highlighted key areas in this regard below.
i. Non-compete covenants
Section 27 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 (Contract Act) provides that any agreement that
restrains a person from exercising a lawful profession, trade or business is void to the extent
of such restriction. The only exception under Section 27 of the Contract Act is with respect
to restrictions on carrying on business of which goodwill is sold. This exception is, however,
subject to the restriction being reasonable with respect to (1) the nature of business that the
individual is restrained from engaging in; (2) territorial restrictions; and (3) the period of
restriction. Since contracts in restraint of trade are prima facie void, the onus is on the party
supporting the contract to show that the restraint falls within the exception and is reasonable.
Post employment non-competition covenants have consistently been held to be
unenforceable in India. While courts have held non-competition covenants during the
term of employment to be enforceable, those applicable post-employment are consistently
considered void.  However, post employment non-competition covenants are commonly
included to deter employees from engaging with competition.
Given that post-employment, non-competition obligations are unenforceable,
employers rely on confidentiality obligations to protect their intellectual property and
proprietary information. In this regard, of the restrictive covenants that are imposed on
employees, courts in India are typically most inclined to uphold and enforce restrictive
covenants in relation to non-disclosure of confidential information. There is no fixed standard of what information constitutes ‘confidential information’ and the same could vary based on factors including the industry of the employer.
ii. Garden leave
As post-employment, non-competition covenants have been held to be unenforceable in
India, employers typically resort to including the right to require employees to proceed
on garden leave while they are serving out their notice period; typically, the notice period
included the employment agreements for executives are longer than the notice periods
contained in regular employee agreements. Garden leave is a process by which employees
are indirectly restrained from joining competitors by paying money to the employees for the
garden leave period.
iii. Non-solicitation covenants
In an employer–employee relationship, non-solicitation agreements are generally understood
to refer to contracts whereby an employee is restricted from soliciting the employer’s clients,
customers, vendors or employees for a predetermined duration after termination of the
employment. While it is an established position of law in India that restrictive covenants
seeking to operate post termination of employment are void, courts in India have, on a
case-by-case basis, upheld the validity of non-solicitation agreements even after conclusion
of the employment.
The position under Indian law in relation to the enforceability of non-solicitation
restrictions is that courts typically would not grant a specific injunction to enforce a
non-solicitation covenant and would be more inclined to grant damages. That said, practically, allegations of breach of non-solicitation clauses are difficult to establish in a court of law.
iv. Termination of employment
To carry out termination of employment, an employer would need to adhere to the specific
requirements in relation to termination of employment under the Industrial Disputes Act,
1947 (the ID Act), state-specific legislation applicable to commercial establishments (S&E
Acts), and the terms of employment contained in the employment documentation and
Requirements under the ID Act
The ID Act is only applicable to employees categorised as ‘workmen’ – that is, a person
employed in any industry to do any manual, unskilled, skilled, technical, operational,
clerical or supervisory work for hire or reward. This definition excludes persons employed
mainly in a managerial or administrative capacity and those persons who are employed in
a supervisory capacity drawing monthly wages in excess of 10,000 rupees. Senior executives
would ordinarily not fall within the purview of the ID Act. With respect to employees who
are not ‘workmen’ (which would include executives), termination of their employment will
need to be as per the S&E Act (if applicable) and the contractual terms of employment.
Requirements under S&E Acts
S&E Acts typically require that employment of employees who have been in employment
for a certain period are terminated for ‘reasonable cause’ and with prior notice of one month
or pay in lieu. However, these requirements could vary based on the state in which the
establishment is located.
Requirements per the terms of employment
The employer would also be required to adhere to the terms of employment as contained in
employment contracts and the organisation’s policies. If the terms of employment are more
beneficial to employees (such as a longer notice periods, higher severance, etc.) than those
offered under statute, the more beneficial terms would need to be provided.
However, given that executives are largely exempt from statutory employment
law protections for wrongful termination, it is essential to clearly document the terms of
employment, minimum commitment in terms of duration of employment, termination of
employment (for cause and otherwise) and consequences of termination.
There are no specific limits on severance remuneration that is payable to executives
from an employment law perspective. Additionally, executives will also be eligible to payment
of gratuity and leave encashment, in addition to other contractual severance payments.
v. Change of control
The implications of change in control do not apply to executives, unless contractually
determined. In this regard, rules in relation to the termination of employment in connection
with a change in control depends on the category of employee and the manner in which the
change in control has occurred. In this regard, please note the following.
In relation to the transfer of ‘workmen’ pursuant to transfer of an ‘undertaking’: the
ID Act prescribes the process of transfer of workmen in case of the transfer of ownership or
management of an ‘undertaking’. Where there is a transfer of ownership or management
of an undertaking from one employer to a new employer, every ‘workman’ who has been
in continuous service for not less than one year (240 days) is deemed to be retrenched
(terminated), unless the following conditions are fulfilled:
a) the workmen are being transferred under terms and conditions that are not less
favourable than the terms and conditions of service immediately before the transfer;
b) the employment is not being interrupted by the transfer;
c) the transferee, under the terms of transfer or otherwise, is legally liable to pay the
workmen, in the event of termination of his or her service, compensation on the basis
that their service had been continuous and not affected by the transfer; and
d) the workmen consent to their transfer.
If all of the conditions mentioned above are not met, then the workmen who have been in
continuous service for one year (240 days) or more shall be deemed to have been retrenched
and be entitled to the following from the transferor entity: (1) one month’s notice or wages
in lieu thereof; and (2) retrenchment compensation calculated at the rate of 15 days’ ‘average
pay’ for every year of continuous service or part thereof in excess of six months.
In relation to the transfer of non-workmen or for transfers not pursuant to a transfer
of undertaking: for non-workmen or where the transfer is not pursuant to a transfer of
undertaking, the mode of transfer of employment is via contractual agreement between the
transferor entity, employee and transferee entity. The transfer documentation should capture
(1) cessation of employment with the transferor and settlement of dues; (2) commencement
of employment with the transferee entity and terms of employment; and (3) consent of the
employees to transfer to the transferee entity. Typically, such transfers are on terms that are
not less favourable applicable immediately before the transfer and employees are generally
provided with continuity in service. If their employment is to be terminated, the employer
would be required to adhere to the process prescribed under their employment agreement
and the S&E Acts (if applicable).
vi. Reason for termination and constructive dismissal
Employment law statutes largely permit for termination of non-workmen with notice or
payment in lieu of notice in cases of termination simpliciter. Employers can terminate
employment without notice or payment in lieu of notice if the termination is on grounds of
misconduct. However, it is required that the employers adhere to the principles of natural
justice when determining whether there has been misconduct. The law regarding constructive termination is yet to develop in India, and currently this concept is not applicable under Indian law.
vii. Unions and collective bargaining agreements
All categories of employees (including executives) are permitted to unionise in India.
However, executives generally tend not to unionise or to collectively bargain.
V. SECURITIES LAW
i. Stock-based employee benefits
Stock-based employee benefits in India are often structured in the form of stock options,
restricted stock units, stock appreciation rights, or a hybrid of such forms. Issuance of such
stock-based benefits is governed by the Companies Act and the regulations promulgated by
the SEBI, as applicable.
For companies other than listed companies, issuance of ESOPs is governed by the
Companies Act and the Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules, 2014 (the SCD
Rules). The Companies Act defines an ESOP as an option given to the directors, officers or
employees of a company or of its holding company or subsidiary company or companies, if
any, giving such persons the benefit or right to purchase, or to subscribe for, the shares of the
company at a future date at a predetermined price.
With respect to unlisted companies, the Companies Act and the SCD Rules prescribe,
inter alia, the following conditionalities in respect of the issuance of ESOPs.
The following persons are eligible for the receipt of ESOPs:
a) a permanent employee of the company who has been working in India or outside India;
b) a director of the company, whether a whole-time director or not but excluding an
independent director; or
c) an employee as under clauses (a) or (b) above of a subsidiary, in India or outside India,
or of a holding company of the company.
Companies are not permitted to grant stock options to an employee who is a promoter or a
person belonging to the promoter group; or a director who either him or herself or through
his or her relative or through any body corporate, directly or indirectly, holds more than
10 per cent of the outstanding equity shares of the company.
These restrictions are not applicable in respect of a ‘start-up company’, for a period of
10 years from the date of its incorporation or registration.
Minimum vesting period
There must be a minimum period of one year between the grant of the ESOPs and the vesting
of such ESOPs.
Issuance of ESOPs is subject to receipt of shareholders’ approval by a special resolution – that is, the votes cast in favour of the resolution are not to be less than three times the number of votes cast against the resolution. Further, while a company may undertake to vary the terms of any ESOPs not yet exercised by a special resolution, such variation must not be prejudicial to the interests of the option holders.
Employees do not have right to receive any dividend or to vote or in any manner enjoy the
benefits of a shareholder in respect of ESOPs granted to them, till such time that shares are
issued on exercise of the ESOPs. A company has the freedom to specify any lock-in period
for the shares issued pursuant to exercise of the ESOPs, and is to determine the exercise price
in conformity with applicable accounting policies, if any.
For listed companies, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Share Based Employee
Benefits) Regulations, 2014 (SBEB Regulations) govern employee stock option schemes,
employee stock purchase schemes, stock appreciation rights schemes, general employee
benefits schemes, and retirement benefit schemes. The SBEB Regulations prescribe, inter
alia, the following conditionalities in respect of the issuance of ESOPs.
The eligibility criteria and exclusions with respect to stock-linked incentives under the
SBEB Regulations are the same as under the SCD Rules. The SBEB Regulations additionally
state that an employee will be eligible to participate in the company as determined by the
compensation committee of the company.
Minimum vesting period
A minimum vesting period of one year is prescribed in respect of options granted under an
employee stock option scheme or a stock appreciation right scheme.
As with a private company, no scheme may be offered to employees in the absence of approval accorded by the shareholders by way of special resolution. Further, a company may not vary the terms of any scheme (including of a scheme offered but not yet exercised) in any manner that may be detrimental to the interests of the employees.
In case of a new issuance of shares under any scheme, such newly issued shares are to be listed immediately in any recognised stock exchange where the existing shares are listed, subject to:
a) compliance with the other stipulations of the SBEB Regulations;
b) filing of a statement with SEBI in such regard, and receipt of an in-principle approval
from the stock exchanges; and
c) notification to the stock exchanges as per the statement specified by SEBI as and when
an exercise is made.
ii. Sweat equity
For companies other than listed companies, the SCD Rules govern the grant of sweat equity
by the company to its executives. ‘Sweat equity’ means equity shares issued by a company to
its directors or employees at a discount or for consideration other than cash, for providing
their know-how or making available rights in the nature of intellectual property rights or
value additions. The SCD Rules, inter alia, prescribe the following conditionalities for
issuance of sweat equity shares.
Permanent employees and directors (whether whole time or not) of a company, its subsidiary
in India or outside India, its holding company are eligible to be issued sweat equity in
Issuance of sweat equity is subject to receipt of shareholders’ approval in a general meeting by way of passage of a special resolution.
a) Subject to exemption afforded to start-ups, a company may not issue sweat equity
shares for more than 15 per cent of its existing paid-up equity share capital in a year or
shares of the issue value of 50 million rupees, whichever is higher.
b) The issuance of sweat equity shares in a company may not exceed 25 per cent of the
paid-up equity capital of the company at any time.
c) The sweat equity issued to directors or employees is locked in and non-transferable for
a period of three years from the date of allotment.
d) The sweat equity shares are to be issued at a price determined by a registered valuer and
justified under a valuation report addressed to the board of directors, with the gist and
critical elements of the valuation report required to be shared with the shareholders at
the general meeting convened for obtaining their approval.
For a listed company, the SEBI (Issue of Sweat Equity) Regulations, 2002 (the Sweat Equity
Regulations) govern the granting of sweat equity to employees, directors and promoters.
An issuance of sweat equity under the Sweat Equity Regulations requires approval
of the shareholders by way of special resolution. Further, the pricing of the sweat equity
shares must adhere to the floor price and valuation norms as specified under the Sweat
The company is also required to submit a statement to the stock exchanges within the
prescribed time period, providing requisite details of the issuance, including the number of
sweat equity shares, pricing, total amount invested, details of the persons participating in
the issuance, and consequent changes in the capital structure after and before the issuance of
iii. Sale of company stock and short-swing trading
The sale of a company’s stock by its executives must adhere to the trading norms under the
concerned SEBI regulations, as applicable. These trading norms may be further supplemented by a company via its articles of association to include further stipulations in relation to the sale of company stock by executives.
For listed or proposed-to-be listed entities, the Securities and Exchange Board of India
(Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015 (the Inside Trading Regulations) place
various restrictions on ‘insiders’, such as a prohibition on communication of any unpublished
price-sensitive information and trading in securities that are listed or proposed to be listed on
a stock exchange when in possession of unpublished price-sensitive information. An ‘insider’
in the context of the Insider Trading Regulations is any ‘connected person’ and any person
in possession or with access to unpublished price-sensitive information. A connected person
includes any person who is or has during the six months prior to the concerned act been
associated with a company, directly or indirectly, in any capacity (including as a director,
officer or an employee of the company or holding any position, including a professional or
business relationship with the company) that allows or can reasonably be expected to allow
such person, directly or indirectly, access to unpublished price-sensitive information.
While short-swing trading rules are not formally crystallised under the Insider
Trading Regulations, an insider is permitted to formulate a trading plan and present it to
the compliance officer for approval and public disclosure, pursuant to which trades may be
carried out on his or her behalf in accordance with this plan. Such trading plan may establish
the mechanics of permitted trades, a violation of which would be addressed as a violation of
the Insider Trading Regulations and is punishable as such. Trading under the trading plan
cannot commence on behalf of the insider earlier than six months from the public disclosure
of the plan. Further, the trading plan must:
a) not entail trading for the period between the 20th trading day prior to the last day of
any financial period for which results are required to be announced by the issuer of the
securities and the second trading day after the disclosure of such financial results;
b) entail trading for a period of not less than 12 months;
c) not entail overlap of any period for which another trading plan is already in existence;
d) set out either the value of trades to be effected or the number of securities to be traded
along with the nature of the trade and the intervals at, or dates on which, such trades
shall be effected; and
e) not entail trading in securities for market abuse.
iv. Anti-hedging rules
The Reserve Bank of India has issued the Guidelines on Compensation of Whole Time
Directors/Chief Executive Officers/Material Risk Takers and Control Function Staff (the
RBI Guidelines), applicable to private-sector banks including local area banks, small finance
banks and payments banks.
i. Disclosure of remuneration information
The Companies Act requires every company to file an annual return with the Registrar
of Companies, disclosing details of the remuneration of its directors and key managerial
personnel, including gross salary, commission, and stock option and sweat equity.
Additionally, every listed company is to disclose particulars of remuneration of its
directors in the report of its board of directors, detailing the following:
a) the ratio of the remuneration of each director to the median remuneration of the
employees of the company for the financial year;
b) the percentage increase in remuneration of each director, chief financial officer, chief
executive officer, company secretary or manager, if any, in the financial year;
c) the percentage increase in the median remuneration of employees in the financial year;
d) the number of permanent employees on the rolls of the company; and
e) affirmation that the remuneration is as per the remuneration policy of the company.
Perquisites are defined to include the following under the Companies Act as read with the
Income-tax Act, 1961 (the Income Tax Act) subject to prescribed thresholds (materiality or
otherwise), qualifications, and exceptions:
a) the value of rent-free accommodation provided by an employer and the value of
any concession in the matter of rent respecting any accommodation provided by
b) the value of any benefit or amenity granted or provided free of cost or at concessional
rate in specified cases including by a company to an employee who is a director thereof,
and by a company to an employee being a person who has substantial interest in
c) any sum paid by an employer in respect of any obligation which, but for such payment,
would have been payable by the concerned person;
d) any sum payable by an employer to effect an assurance on the life of the assessee or to
effect a contract for an annuity;
e) the value of any specified security or sweat equity shares allotted or transferred, directly
or indirectly, by the employer, or a former employer, free of cost or at concessional rate;
f) the amount of any contribution and accretions to specified superannuation fund or
provident fun by the employer in respect of the assessee; and
g) the value of any other fringe benefit or amenity as may be prescribed.
The Income Tax Act and allied rules prescribes valuation norms for various classes of
perquisites, with perquisites accordingly required to be valued in monetary terms and taxed
as part of the employee’s salary income.
iii. Disclosures for related party agreements
A related party is defined under the Companies Act to include a director or his or her relative,
in addition to a key managerial personnel or his or her relative. Every contract or arrangement with a related party is required to be referred to in the report of the board of directors to its shareholders, along with the justification for entering into such contract or arrangement.
A related party’s appointment to any office or place of profit in a company, subsidiary
company, or associate company is required to be undertaken only with the consent of the
board of directors, or by way of passage of a resolution by the company’s shareholders where
the appointment to such office or place of profit entails a monthly remuneration exceeding
In this context, an ‘office or place of profit’ includes:
a) when held by a director, any office or place, by virtue of which the director receives
from the company anything by way of remuneration over and above the remuneration
to which he or she is entitled as director, by way of salary, fee, commission, perquisites,
any rent-free accommodation or otherwise; and
b) when held by an individual other than a director, any office or place, by virtue of which
such individual receives from the company anything by way of remuneration, salary,
fee, commission, perquisites, any rent-free accommodation or otherwise.
VII. CORPORATE GOVERNANCE
The Companies Act defines ‘remuneration’ as any money or its equivalent given or passed
to any person for services rendered by him or her and includes perquisites. All companies
(whether private, public or listed) are subject to corporate governance norms applicable to
executive remuneration as explored below.
i. Nomination and remuneration committee
Every listed public company, and every company fulfilling the following-listed criteria, is
required to constitute a nomination and remuneration committee (NRC):
a) public companies with paid-up share capital of 100 million rupees;
b) public companies with turnover of 1 billion rupees; and
c) public companies that have, in aggregate, outstanding loans, debentures and deposits
exceeding 500 million rupees.
The NRC must consist of three or more non-executive directors out of which not less than
one-half are to be independent directors. Further, the chair of the company (whether executive or non-executive) may be appointed as a member of the NRC but may not chair the NRC.
The NRC is to recommend to the board of directors a policy relating to the remuneration
of the directors, key managerial personnel and other employees. The NRC is further tasked
with certain obligations including ensuring that:
a) the level and composition of remuneration is reasonable and sufficient to attract, retain
and motivate directors of the quality required to run the company successfully;
b) the relationship of remuneration to performance is clear and meets appropriate
performance benchmarks; and
c) the remuneration to directors, key managerial personnel and senior management
involves a balance between fixed and incentive pay reflecting short- and long-term
performance objectives appropriate to the working of the company and its goals.
ii. Ceiling on remuneration
The Companies Act prescribes limits on the remuneration payable by a public company to its
directors, prescribing that the total managerial remuneration payable by a public company to
its directors, including its managing director and whole-time director, and its manager in any
financial year shall not exceed 11 per cent of the net profits of that company.
Additionally, in respect of a managing director, whole-time director or manager, the
total remuneration payable to any one such person must not exceed 5 per cent of the net
profits of the company, and if there is more than one such person, the remuneration to all
such persons is to not exceed 10 per cent of the net profits.
In respect of directors that are neither a managing director nor a whole-time director,
the remuneration to all such directors must not exceed 1 per cent of the net profits of the
company if there is a managing director or whole-time director or manager, and should not
exceed 3 per cent in any other case.
Further, in any financial year, if the concerned company has no profits or if its profits
are inadequate, the Companies Act prescribes limits to the yearly remuneration that are
pegged to the effective capital of a company.
The Companies Act further provides that in respect of cases where a company has
inadequate or no profits, the company may fix the remuneration within the limits specified
under the Companies Act, at such amount or percentage of profits of the company, as it may
deem fit and while fixing the remuneration, the company is to have regard to criteria including:
a) the financial position of the company (including its financial and operating performance
over the three preceding financial years);
b) the remuneration or commission drawn by the individual concerned in any other
capacity or from any other company;
c) securities held by the director, including options and details of the shares pledged as at
the end of the preceding financial year;
d) the performance of the director and proportionality of remuneration; and
e) professional qualifications and experience of the individual concerned.
Further, the Companies Act also prescribes remuneration limits for the non-executive directors and independent directors, in situations of no profits or inadequate profits.
The above-stated limits are exclusive of sitting fees paid to the directors that are separately
capped at 100,000 rupees per meeting of the board of directors or committee thereof.
Further, subject to the prescribed procedure under the Companies Act, a public
company may elect to increase the above-stated thresholds for remuneration by way of
passage of a special resolution in its general meeting.
In addition, as per the SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements), 2015
(the LODR Regulations) applicable to listed companies, approval of shareholders by special
resolution shall be obtained every year, in which the annual remuneration payable to a single
non-executive director exceeds 50 per cent of the total annual remuneration payable to all
non-executive directors, giving details of the remuneration thereof.
The LODR Regulations also provide that fees or compensation payable to executive
directors who are promoters or members of the promoter group shall be subject to the
approval of the shareholders by special resolution if the annual remuneration payable to such
executive director exceeds 50 million rupees or 2.5 per cent of the net profits of the listed
entity, whichever is higher; or where there is more than one such director, the aggregate
annual remuneration to such directors exceeds 5 per cent of the net profits of the listed entity.
iii. Corporate governance for foreign companies
Where not less than 50 per cent of the paid-up share capital of a foreign company is held by
one or more citizens of India or by one or more companies or bodies corporate incorporated
in India, whether singly or in the aggregate, such company is to comply with the provisions
of the Companies Act made applicable to it in India as if it were a company incorporated
Every foreign company (i.e., a company or body corporate incorporated outside
India that has a place of business in India whether by itself or through an agent, physically
or through electronic methods, and conducts any business activity in India in any other
manner), is required to submit a profit and loss account and balance sheet containing the
prescribed particulars to the Registrar of Companies. To the extent that these relate and
are pertinent to the executives of a company (such as related-party transactions involving
the executives of the company including advances due by directors or other officers of the
company or any of them either severally or jointly with any other persons, or amounts due
by firms or private companies respectively in which any director is a partner or a director or
a member), the relevant disclosures are required to be made in the prescribed form to the
Registrar of Companies.
iv. Clawback/recoupment of remuneration
The Companies Act contemplates the recovery of remuneration from certain specified
executive personnel in the event of fraud or non-compliance.
If a company is required to restate its financial statements because of fraud or
non-compliance, this company is to recover from any past or present managing director,
whole-time director, manager or chief executive officer (by whatever name called) who,
during the period for which the financial statements are required to be restated, received
remuneration (including any stock options) in excess of what would have been payable to
him or her as per restatement of financial statements.
The Companies Act also contemplates the procurement of insurance coverage by a
company on behalf of its managing director, whole-time director, manager, chief executive
officer, chief financial officer or company secretary towards indemnifying them against any
liability in relation to the company. The premium paid in relation to such insurance is not
treated as part of the remuneration payable to any such personnel. However, if the concerned
executive is proved to be guilty, premium paid toward such insurance is treated as part of
Further, under the labour laws pertaining to payment of gratuity, if employees eligible
for receipt of gratuity are terminated from employment on account of any acts, wilful
omission or negligence that causes substantial damages to the company, these employees can
be required to forfeit their gratuity entitlement to recoup the losses of the company.
v. Shareholders approvals and executive remuneration
In respect of the limits on executive remuneration prescribed under the Companies Act for a
public company (as detailed above), the shareholders of a company may elect to increase such limits by way of passage of a special resolution.
In respect of stock-based executive remuneration, the issuance of any sweat equity shares
or other form of stock-based benefit by a company requires the approval of the company’s
shareholders by way of passage of a special resolution. Shareholders further enjoy information rights in relation to such proposed issuances.
Further, the articles of association of a company may provide additional rights
to a company’s shareholders in respect of oversight or control over managerial and
vii. Government approval of executive remuneration
While the earlier regulatory regime required approval of the central government for payment
of managerial remuneration beyond the limits specified under the Companies Act, such
approval is no longer required and a company may undertake to pay its executives beyond
the specified thresholds upon receipt of the prescribed shareholders’ approvals.
viii. Proxy advisory firms
Proxy firms supplement statutory corporate governance norms in India, and advise on a
range of issues including appointment and remuneration of key executives.
Proxy firms are regulated by SEBI, which prescribes disclosure standards and other
norms to ensure transparency and prevent any conflict of interest in relation to the activities
undertaken by proxy firms.
IX. EXECUTIVE REMUNERATION IN BANKS
Executive remuneration in banks is regulated by a special regime as prescribed by the RBI
under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. In this context, the RBI, in November 2019, issued
Guidelines on Compensation of Whole Time Directors/Chief Executive Officers/Other Risk
Takers and Control Function Staff keeping in mind international best practices, with a view
to providing sound compensation practices. The Guidelines have been made applicable with
effect from 1 April 2020. They rely on the principles issued by the Financial Stability Board
in 2009 with the objective of ensuring effective governance of compensation, alignment of
compensation with prudent risk-taking, and effective supervisory oversight and stakeholder
engagement in compensation. As per the Guidelines, private banks are, inter alia, required to:
a) formulate and adopt a comprehensive compensation policy covering all their employees
and conduct an annual review of the same. The policy should cover all aspects of the
compensation structure such as fixed pay, perquisites, performance bonus, guaranteed
bonuses (joining and sign-on bonuses), severance packages and share-linked benefits;
b) constitute a nomination and remuneration committee of the board to oversee the
framing, review and implementation of compensation policy of the bank on behalf of
the board. This committee should work in close coordination with the risk management
committee of the bank, to achieve effective alignment between compensation and risks;
c) ensure that for the whole-time directors, chief executive officers and material risk-takers:
• compensation is adjusted for all types of risks;
• compensation outcomes are symmetric with risk outcomes;
• compensation payouts are sensitive to the time horizon of the risks; and
• the mix of cash, equity and other forms of compensation is consistent with
d) ensure that the fixed portion of compensation is reasonable, taking into account all
relevant factors including adherence to statutory requirements and industry practice;
e) ensure a proper balance between the cash and share-linked components in the variable
pay and ensure that the limits on variable pay as prescribed under the guidelines are
f) have deferred compensation subject to malus and clawback arrangements in the event
of subdued or negative financial performance;
g) not permit employees to insure or hedge their compensation structure to offset the risk
alignment effects embedded in their compensation arrangement;
h) members of staff engaged in financial and risk control, including internal audit, should
be compensated in a manner that is independent of the business areas they oversee; and
i) make disclosure on remuneration of whole-time directors, chief executive officers
and material risk-takers on an annual basis, at the minimum, in their annual
The RBI issued instructions with regard to, inter alia, the remuneration of non-executive
directors with an objective to attract qualified competent individuals to the position.
Pursuant to the notification, the RBI has permitted banks to provide for payment of compensation to non-executive directors in the form of a fixed remuneration, in addition to sitting fees and expenses related to attending the meetings, provided that this remuneration for a non-executive director, other than the chair of the board, cannot exceed 2 million rupees
per annum. This fixed remuneration is expected to be commensurate with an individual
director’s responsibilities and demands on time.
X. DEVELOPMENTS AND CONCLUSIONS
The current economic climate has brought the topic of corporate governance to the
forefront, with shareholders wanting to ensure that their companies are effectively managed.
Consequently, corporate governance is becoming more critical not only from a compliance
perspective but also from a value and reputation perspective.
Additionally, the Code on Wages, 2019 received Presidential Assent on 8 August 2019
and was published in the gazette. The Wage Code seeks to consolidate and replace the Payment of Wages Act, 1936; the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965; and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. Further, the Code on Social Security, 2020 received Presidential Assent on 28 September 2020 and was published in the gazette. The Social Security Code intends to consolidate, into a single code, nine central labour statutes related to social security, which, inter alia, include the Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948; the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972; and the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008. It proposes to extend the social security benefits to employees and workers, in both the organised and the unorganised sectors, including ‘gig workers’. Both the Wage Code and the Social Security Code have not yet been brought into effect entirely.
Separately, with the objective of aligning interests of key employees of asset management
companies with the unitholders of the mutual fund scheme, SEBI introduced a compensation
framework, which will be effective from 1 October 2021.
 Section 27 of the Contract Act – Every agreement, by which anyone is restrained from exercising a lawful profession, trade or business of any kind, is to that extent void. Exception 1 – saving of agreement not to carry on business of which goodwill is sold – one who sells the goodwill of a business may agree with the buyer to refrain from carrying on a similar business, within specified local limits; so long as the buyer, or any person deriving title to the goodwill from him or her, carries on a like business therein, provided that such limits appear to the court reasonable, regard being had to the nature of the business.
 Niranjan Shankar Golikari v. The Century Spinning and Mfg. Co. Ltd. (AIR 1967 SC 1098).
Nohid Nooreyezdan, Senior Partner
Shreya Rao, Partner
Veena Gopalakrishnan, Partner
Nishanth Ravindran, Senior Associate
Aishwarya Srivastava, Associate