Employee share schemes – A dividend equivalent payment may be assessable to an employee as remuneration

A dividend equivalent payment is assessable to you as remuneration (and therefore ordinary income) under section 6-5 when you receive such a payment for, or in respect of, services you provide as an employee, or similarly, where the payment has a sufficient connection with your employment.



Example 1 – dividend equivalent payment for, or in respect of, services provided

A Co is an Australian resident company that carries on a business.

A Co establishes a trust for the purpose of providing shares (ESS interests) under an ESS to eligible Australian resident employees.

A Co makes a contribution to the trustee of the trust so the trustee can purchase and hold shares in A Co under the terms of the trust deed, plan handbook and invitation to the employees (together ESS agreement).

Under the terms of the ESS agreement an eligible employee is a beneficiary of the trust and has an interest in the trust that is a right to acquire the shares being held by the trustee. This interest does not entitle the employee to any income generated by the shares over the course of the ESS until such time as the employee satisfies certain conditions set by A Co that are specific to the employee’s performance and their continuous employment with A Co being three years (performance conditions).

Upon satisfying the performance conditions the employee is entitled to own the shares held by the trustee of the trust. In addition, the employee is entitled to receive from the trustee an amount reflecting the dividends (post-tax) the employee would have earned had the employee owned the shares from the day the employee received their interest in the trust. The trustee funds this payment from trust capital. According to the ESS agreement, this payment can be made by the trustee or the employer.

As the dividend equivalent payment will be made to the employee because the employee has satisfied certain performance conditions, these payments are made to the employee for, or in respect of, services provided by the employee (they are, in substance, a reward for performance). They are assessable to the employee under section 6-5. While the quantum of the payment reflects a dividend equivalent that may have been received had the employee acquired the shares at the outset of the arrangement, this is merely a calculation mechanism and does not reflect the character of the payment in the recipient’s hands. The character of the payment in the employee’s hands is remuneration.

Example 2 – dividend equivalent payment not for, or in respect of, services provided

Assume the same facts as Example 1. However, separate to the terms and conditions in the ESS agreement, the trust deed also confers an absolute power on the trustee to make a dividend equivalent payment to a beneficiary at the trustee’s discretion. The trustee takes no recommendation from A Co and has no regard to the continuing service of an employee, or the satisfaction of any performance conditions, before it makes such a payment. However, the trustee is only able to make such a payment once certain vesting conditions are satisfied. A beneficiary can receive the payment even if they are no longer an employee. The payment can only be made by the trustee.

If the trustee makes a dividend equivalent payment in exercising its discretionary power under the trust deed, the payment will not be assessable to an employee as remuneration under section 6-5. This is because the payment is received in their capacity as a beneficiary of the trust. The payment would have only a distant causal connection to an employee’s employment and, therefore, would not be remuneration.

This info is extracted from ATO website.

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