Employee share schemes
Sharing the wealth
As an employee of a company, you may be invited to participate
in an employee share scheme. There are a number of things to
consider before signing up.
Here we explain how these schemes work and the pros and
How employee share schemes
Employee share schemes (also known as employee share purchase
plans or employee equity schemes) give employees shares in the
company they work for, or the opportunity to buy shares in the
Share purchase plans offer eligible employees the chance to
purchase shares, sometimes through a loan from their employer. The
shares are often paid for through salary sacrifice over a set
period (for example, 6 months), or by using the dividends received on the shares. Some
share purchase plans also allow employees to pay for the shares in
full, up front.
Employees on higher incomes are often eligible to receive shares
as a performance bonus, or as a form of remuneration, instead of
receiving a higher salary.
The share schemes of larger companies usually offer employees
'ordinary shares' that provide an equity
investment in the company. However, smaller companies
may only offer 'pseudo' equity schemes that pay dividends but do
not give employees the rights associated with traditional share
ownership, such as the right to vote at annual general
Employee share schemes are a way of attracting, retaining and
motivating staff as they align employees' interests with
shareholders' interests. Employees can benefit financially if the
company performs well.
The shares might be offered without a brokerage fee or at a discount to the
market price. There may also be tax benefits but this will depend
on the employee's financial situation and the unique features of
the share scheme.
There are often limitations on when employees can buy, sell and
access shares through their company's share scheme.
There may only be an annual window during which shares can be
bought or sold. Employees may also have to get permission from the
company before buying or selling the shares.
If the employee is paying back the cost of the shares over a
period of time, they do not have the right to sell them until they
have been paid for.
Even if the shares have been paid for, some companies may insist
that employees give back their shares when they leave, or sell them
at the current market price, even if that price is less than what
Some share packages come with restrictions, where employees only
receive part or all of the shares if certain performance targets
are met, and they remain with the company for a certain number of
Case study: Michael buys shares in his company
was offered shares in his company that was being listed for the
first time on the stock market. As he had been at the company for 5
years, he was offered 3000 shares to buy. Other people who had been
there a shorter time were offered less shares. Employees were
offered the shares at $1.20 which was a bit cheaper than they were
to be listed on the stock market. There were rumours going around
the company that the value of the shares could go up to $9 once
they were listed. Michael bought all 3000 shares ($3600 worth of
shares) he was offered as he felt excited to have a stake in the
future of the company. It made him feel like more than an
The shares did well when they were first listed, reaching a peak
of $8 after a few months. After that the share price slipped
quickly. Luckily Michael sold his shares after 6 months at $2.40 so
he doubled his money. A few years later the owner of the company
bought out the minority shareholders at 50c per share when the
company was delisted from the stock market.
Things to consider
Before you decide to participate in an employee share scheme you
should do some research about the company to determine how well it
is doing and whether the shares are likely to increase in value.
See choosing shares to buy for
If you decide to purchase the shares, it's important that
they're part of a diversified investment plan to avoid losing a
large part of your investment portfolio if your employer goes out
of business. For more information, see investing basics.
It's also important to consider your own personal circumstances.
For example, you may have other priorities for your money like
paying off your mortgage or contributing extra to
Each employee share scheme is different, so you should carefully
read the offer documents, which set out the terms and conditions of
the offer. Look for information about when you can buy and sell the
shares, whether you are entitled to dividend payments, and what
happens to the shares if you leave the company.
Speak to an accountant or a financial
adviser if you need professional advice. See also the
Australian Taxation Office (ATO) information on employee share schemes.
Employee share schemes can be a great way of
gaining access to discount shares, however you should think about
how they fit into your investment strategy before you decide to get
Last updated: 23 Mar 2016