Center On Executive Compensation

CEO Severance Consolidates Around Common Practices

Published on: February 12, 2022

Topics: Severance and Change in Control

A recent study from Meridian shows that policies on CEO severance benefits not connected to a change-in-control are consolidating around several best practices. The study reviewed disclosed severance policies at 100 S&P 500 companies:

  • For all companies, an involuntary termination without cause will trigger severance. 
    • Half (51%) provide severance to the CEO under a voluntary termination with “good reason.” 
      • Only 35% provide the same for NEOs.
  • More than 80% of companies do not fully vest any type of equity upon termination. 
    • Options are most commonly forfeited (53%) while 26% use prorata vesting.
    • Restricted stock are evenly split at 40% each for forfeiture or prorata vesting.
    • Performance shares are vested on a prorata basis 47% of the time or forfeited 40% of the time.
  • 62% of CEOs receive a 2x cash severance multiple while another 22% receive 1x. 
    • For NEOs, 2x is the most common at 40%, but 1x is used by 38% of companies.
  • 73% of companies define the CEO’s cash compensation as base salary + bonus. 
    • 59% of companies use the same definition for NEOs.
  • It is most common (28%) for CEOs to receive 24 months of health benefits. 
    • NEOs are most likely (34%) to get 12 months of health benefits.

The results generally line up with the Center’s survey on Long-term Equity Treatment from May 2021. Severance benefits remain a hot-button issue and are one of the most common reasons that proxy advisors will recommend shareholders vote against a say-on-pay proposal even if pay and performance are reasonably aligned.


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