26 CFR § 53.4960-3 - Determination of whether there is a parachute payment.

§ 53.4960-3 Determination of whether there is a parachute payment.

(a) Parachute payment -

(1) In general. Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (a)(2) of this section (relating to payments excluded from the definition of a parachute payment), parachute payment means any payment in the nature of compensation made by an ATEO (or a predecessor of the ATEO) or a related organization to (or for the benefit of) a covered employee if the payment is contingent on the employee's separation from employment with the employer, and the aggregate present value of the payments in the nature of compensation to (or for the benefit of) the individual that are contingent on the separation equals or exceeds an amount equal to 3-times the base amount.

(2) Exclusions. The following payments are not parachute payments:

(i) Certain qualified plans. A payment that is a contribution to or a distribution from a plan described in section 401(a) that includes a trust exempt from tax under section 501(a), an annuity plan described in section 403(a), a simplified employee pension (as defined in section 408(k)), or a simple retirement account described in section 408(p);

(ii) Certain annuity contracts. A payment made under or to an annuity contract described in section 403(b) or a plan described in section 457(b);

(iii) Compensation for medical services. A payment made to a licensed medical professional for the performance of medical services performed by such professional; and

(iv) Payments to non-HCEs. A payment made to an individual who is not a highly compensated employee (HCE) as defined in paragraph (a)(3) of this section.

(3) Determination of HCEs for purposes of the exclusion from parachute payments. For purposes of this section, highly compensated employee or HCE means, with regard to an ATEO that maintains a qualified retirement plan or other employee benefit plan described in § 1.414(q)-1T, Q/A-1, any person who is a highly compensated employee within the meaning of section 414(q) and, with regard to an ATEO that does not maintain such a plan, any person who would be a highly compensated employee within the meaning of section 414(q) if the ATEO did maintain such a plan. For purposes of determining the group of highly compensated employees for a determination year, consistent with § 1.414(q)-1T, Q/A-14(a)(1), the determination year calculation is made on the basis of the applicable plan year under § 1.414(q)-1T, Q/A-14(a)(2) of the plan or other entity for which a determination is made, and the look-back year calculation is made on the basis of the 12-month period immediately preceding that year. For an ATEO that does not maintain a plan described in § 1.414(q)-1T, Q/A-1, the rules are applied by analogy, substituting the calendar year for the plan year. Thus, for example, in 2022, an ATEO that does not maintain such a plan must use its employees' 2021 annual compensation (as defined in § 1.414(q)-1T, Q/A-13, including any of the safe harbor definitions if applied consistently to all employees) to determine which employees are HCEs for 2022, if any, for purposes of section 4960. If an employee is an HCE at the time of separation from employment, then for purposes of section 4960 any parachute payment that is contingent on the separation from employment (as defined in paragraph (d) of this section) is treated as paid to an HCE so that the exception from the term parachute payment under paragraph (a)(2)(iv) of this section does not apply, even if the payment occurs during one or more later taxable years (that is, taxable years after the taxable year during which the employee separated from employment).

(b) Payment in the nature of compensation -

(1) In general. Any payment - in whatever form - is a payment in the nature of compensation if the payment arises out of an employment relationship, including holding oneself out as available to perform services and refraining from performing services. Thus, for example, a payment made under a covenant not to compete or a similar arrangement is a payment in the nature of compensation. A payment in the nature of compensation includes (but is not limited to) wages and salary, bonuses, severance pay, fringe benefits, life insurance, pension benefits, and other deferred compensation (including any amount characterized by the parties as interest or earnings thereon). A payment in the nature of compensation also includes cash when paid, the value of the right to receive cash, the value of accelerated vesting, or a transfer of property. The vesting of an option, stock appreciation right, or similar form of compensation as a result of a covered employee's separation from employment is a payment in the nature of compensation. However, a payment in the nature of compensation does not include attorney's fees or court costs paid or incurred in connection with the payment of any parachute payment or a reasonable rate of interest accrued on any amount during the period the parties contest whether a parachute payment will be made.

(2) Consideration paid by covered employee. Any payment in the nature of compensation is reduced by the amount of any money or the fair market value of any property (owned by the covered employee without restriction) that is (or will be) transferred by the covered employee in exchange for the payment.

(c) When payment is considered to be made -

(1) In general. A payment in the nature of compensation is considered made in the taxable year in which it is includible in the covered employee's gross income or, in the case of fringe benefits and other benefits that are excludable from income, in the taxable year the benefits are received. In the case of taxable non-cash fringe benefits provided in a calendar year, payment is considered made on the date or dates the employer chooses, but no later than December 31 of the calendar year in which the benefits are provided, except that when the fringe benefit is the transfer of personal property (either tangible or intangible) of a kind normally held for investment or the transfer of real property, payment is considered made on the actual date of transfer. If the fringe benefit is neither a transfer of personal property nor a transfer of real property, the employer may, in its discretion, treat the value of the benefit actually provided during the last two months of the calendar year as paid during the subsequent calendar year. However, an employer that treats the value of a benefit paid during the last two months of a calendar year as paid during the subsequent calendar year under this rule must treat the value of that fringe benefit as paid during the subsequent calendar year with respect to all employees who receive it.

(2) Transfers of section 83 property. A transfer of property in connection with the performance of services that is subject to section 83 is considered a payment made in the taxable year in which the property is transferred or would be includible in the gross income of the covered employee under section 83, disregarding any election made by the employee under section 83(b) or (i). Thus, in general, such a payment is considered made at the later of the date the property is transferred (as defined in § 1.83-3(a)) to the covered employee or the date the property becomes substantially vested (as defined in § 1.83-3(b) and (j)). The amount of the payment is the compensation as determined under section 83, disregarding any amount includible in income pursuant to an election made by an employee under section 83(b).

(3) Stock options. An option (including an option to which section 421 applies) is treated as property that is transferred when the option becomes vested (regardless of whether the option has a readily ascertainable fair market value as defined in § 1.83-7(b)). For purposes of determining the timing and amount of any payment related to the option, the principles of § 1.280G-1, Q/A-13 and any method prescribed by the Commissioner in published guidance of general applicability under § 601.601(d)(2) apply.

(d) Payment contingent on an employee's separation from employment -

(1) In general. A payment is contingent on an employee's separation from employment if the facts and circumstances indicate that the employer would not make the payment in the absence of the employee's involuntary separation from employment. A payment generally would be made in the absence of the employee's involuntary separation from employment if it is substantially certain at the time of the involuntary separation from employment that the payment would be made whether or not the involuntary separation occurred. A payment the right to which is not subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture within the meaning of section 457(f)(3)(B) at the time of an involuntary separation from employment generally is a payment that would have been made in the absence of an involuntary separation from employment (and is therefore not contingent on a separation from employment), except that the increased value of an accelerated payment of a vested amount described in paragraph (f)(3) of this section resulting from an involuntary separation from employment is not treated as a payment that would have been made in the absence of an involuntary separation from employment. A payment the right to which is no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture within the meaning of section 457(f)(3)(B) as a result of an involuntary separation from employment, including a payment the vesting of which is accelerated due to the separation from employment as described in paragraph (f)(3) of this section, is not treated as a payment that would have been made in the absence of an involuntary separation from employment (and thus is contingent on a separation from employment). A payment does not fail to be contingent on a separation from employment merely because the payment is conditioned upon the execution of a release of claims, noncompetition or nondisclosure provisions, or other similar requirements. See paragraph (d)(3) of this section for the treatment of a payment made pursuant to a covenant not to compete. If, after an involuntary separation from employment, the former employee continues to provide certain services as a nonemployee, payments for services rendered as a nonemployee are not payments that are contingent on a separation from employment to the extent those payments are reasonable and are not made on account of the involuntary separation from employment. Whether services are performed as an employee or nonemployee depends upon all the facts and circumstances. See § 53.4960-1(e). For rules on determining whether payments are reasonable compensation for services, the rules of § 1.280G-1, Q/A-40 through Q/A-42 (excluding Q/A-40(b) and Q/A-42(b)), and Q/A-44 are applied by analogy (substituting involuntary separation from employment for change in ownership or control).

(2) Employment agreements -

(i) In general. If a covered employee involuntarily separates from employment before the end of a contract term and is paid damages for breach of contract pursuant to an employment agreement, the payment of damages is treated as a payment that is contingent on a separation from employment. An employment agreement is an agreement between an employee and employer that describes, among other things, the amount of compensation or remuneration payable to the employee for services performed during the term of the agreement.

(ii) Example. The following example illustrates the rules of this paragraph (d)(2). For purposes of this example, assume any entity referred to as “ATEO” is an ATEO.

(A) Example -

(1) Facts. Employee A, a covered employee, has a 3-year employment agreement with ATEO 1. Under the agreement, Employee A will receive a salary of $200,000 for the first year and, for each succeeding year, an annual salary that is $100,000 more than the previous year. The agreement provides that, in the event of A's involuntary separation from employment without cause, Employee A will receive the remaining salary due under the agreement. At the beginning of the second year of the agreement, ATEO 1 involuntarily terminates Employee A's employment without cause and pays Employee A $700,000 representing the remaining salary due under the employment agreement ($300,000 for the second year of the agreement plus $400,000 for the third year of the agreement).

(2) Conclusion. The $700,000 payment is treated as a payment that is contingent on a separation from employment.

(3) Noncompetition agreements. A payment under an agreement requiring a covered employee to refrain from performing services (for example, a covenant not to compete) is a payment that is contingent on a separation from employment if the payment would not have been made in the absence of an involuntary separation from employment. For example, a payment contingent on compliance in whole or in part with a covenant not to compete negotiated as part of a severance arrangement arising from an involuntary separation from employment is contingent on a separation from employment. Similarly, one or more payments contingent on compliance in whole or in part with a covenant not to compete not negotiated as part of a severance arrangement arising from an involuntary separation from employment but that provides for a payment specific to an involuntary separation from employment (and not voluntary separation from employment) is contingent on a separation from employment. Payments made under an agreement requiring a covered employee to refrain from performing services that are contingent on separation from employment are not treated as paid in exchange for the performance of services and are not excluded from parachute payments.

(4) Payment of amounts previously included in income or excess remuneration. Actual or constructive payment of an amount that was previously included in gross income of the employee is not a payment contingent on a separation from employment. For example, payment of an amount included in income under section 457(f)(1)(A) due to the lapsing of a substantial risk of forfeiture on a date before the separation from employment generally is not a payment that is contingent on a separation from employment, even if the amount is paid in cash or otherwise to the employee because of the separation from employment. In addition, actual or constructive receipt of an amount treated as excess remuneration under § 53.4960-4(b)(1) is not a payment that is contingent on a separation from employment (and thus is not a parachute payment), even if the amount is paid to the employee because of the separation from employment.

(5) Window programs. A payment under a window program is contingent on a separation from employment. A window program is a program established by an employer in connection with an impending separation from employment to provide separation pay if the program is made available by the employer for a limited period of time (no longer than 12 months) to employees who separate from employment during that period or to employees who separate from service during that period under specified circumstances. A payment made under a window program is treated as a payment that is contingent on an employee's separation from employment notwithstanding that the employee may not have had an involuntary separation from employment.

(6) Anti-abuse provision. Notwithstanding paragraphs (d)(1) through (5) of this section, if the facts and circumstances demonstrate that either the vesting or the payment of an amount (whether before or after an employee's involuntary separation from employment) would not have occurred but for the involuntary nature of the separation from employment, the payment of the amount is contingent on a separation from employment. For example, an employer's exercise of discretion to accelerate vesting of an amount shortly before an involuntary separation from employment may indicate that the acceleration of vesting was due to the involuntary nature of the separation from employment and was therefore contingent on the employee's separation from employment. Similarly, payment of an amount in excess of an amount otherwise payable (for example, increased salary), shortly before or after an involuntary separation from employment, may indicate that the amount was paid because the separation was involuntary and was therefore contingent on the employee's separation from employment. If an ATEO becomes a predecessor as a result of a reorganization or other transaction described in § 53.4960-1(h), any payment to an employee by a successor organization that is contingent on the employee's separation from employment with the predecessor ATEO is treated as paid by the predecessor ATEO.

(e) Involuntary separation from employment -

(1) In general. Involuntary separation from employment means a separation from employment due to the independent exercise of the employer's unilateral authority to terminate the employee's services, other than due to the employee's implicit or explicit request, if the employee was willing and able to continue performing services as an employee. An involuntary separation from employment may include an employer's failure to renew a contract at the time the contract expires, provided that the employee was willing and able to execute a new contract providing terms and conditions substantially similar to those in the expiring contract and to continue providing services. The determination of whether a separation from employment is involuntary is based on all the facts and circumstances.

(2) Separation from employment for good reason -

(i) In general. Notwithstanding paragraph (e)(1) of this section, an employee's voluntary separation from employment is treated as an involuntary separation from employment if the separation occurs under certain bona fide conditions (referred to herein as a separation from employment for good reason).

(ii) Material negative change required. A separation from employment for good reason is treated as an involuntary separation from employment if the relevant facts and circumstances demonstrate that it was the result of unilateral employer action that caused a material negative change to the employee's relationship with the employer. Factors that may provide evidence of such a material negative change include a material reduction in the duties to be performed, a material negative change in the conditions under which the duties are to be performed, or a material reduction in the compensation to be received for performing such services.

(iii) Deemed material negative change. An involuntary separation from employment due to a material negative change is deemed to occur if the separation from employment occurs within 2 years following the initial existence of one or more of the following conditions arising without the consent of the employee:

(A) Material diminution of compensation. A material diminution in the employee's base compensation;

(B) Material diminution of responsibility. A material diminution in the employee's authority, duties, or responsibilities;

(C) Material diminution of authority of supervisor. A material diminution in the authority, duties, or responsibilities of the supervisor to whom the employee is required to report, including a requirement that an employee report to a corporate officer or employee instead of reporting directly to the board of directors (or similar governing body) of an organization;

(D) Material diminution of budget. A material diminution in the budget over which the employee retains authority;

(E) Material change of location. A material change in the geographic location at which the employee must perform services; or

(F) Other material breach. Any other action or inaction that constitutes a material breach by the employer of the agreement under which the employee provides services.

(3) Separation from employment. Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph, separation from employment has the same meaning as separation from service as defined in § 1.409A-1(h). Pursuant to § 1.409A-1(h), an employee generally separates from employment with the employer if the employee dies, retires, or otherwise has a termination of employment with the employer or experiences a sufficient reduction in the level of services provided to the employer. For purposes of applying the rules regarding reductions in the level of services set forth in the definition of termination of employment in § 1.409A-1(h)(1)(ii), the rules are modified for purposes of this paragraph such that an employer may not set the level of the anticipated reduction in future services that will give rise to a separation from employment, meaning that the default percentages set forth in § 1.409A-1(h)(1)(ii) apply in all circumstances. Thus, an anticipated reduction of the level of service of less than 50 percent is not treated as a separation from employment, an anticipated reduction of more than 80 percent is treated as a separation from employment, and the treatment of an anticipated reduction between those two levels is determined based on the facts and circumstances. The measurement of the anticipated reduction of the level of service is based on the average level of service for the prior 36 months (or shorter period for an employee employed for less than 36 months). In addition, an employee's separation from employment is determined without regard to § 1.409A-1(h)(2) and (5) (application to independent contractors), since, for purposes of this section, only an employee may have a separation from employment, and a change from bona fide employee status to bona fide independent contractor status is also a separation from employment. See § 53.4960-2(a)(1) regarding the treatment of an employee who also serves as a director of a corporation (or in a substantially similar position). The definition of separation from employment also incorporates the rules under § 1.409A-1(h)(1)(i) (addressing leaves of absence, including military leaves of absence), § 1.409A-1(h)(4) (addressing asset purchase transactions), and § 1.409A-1(h)(6) (addressing employees participating in collectively bargained plans covering multiple employers). The definition further incorporates the rules of § 1.409A-1(h)(3), under which an employee separates from employment only if the employee has a separation from employment with the employer and all employers that would be considered a single employer under section 414(b) and (c), except that the “at least 80 percent” rule under section 414(b) and (c) is used, rather than replacing it with “at least 50 percent.” However, for purposes of determining whether there has been a separation from employment, a purported ongoing employment relationship between a covered employee and an ATEO or a related organization is disregarded if the facts and circumstances demonstrate that the purported employment relationship is not bona fide, or the primary purpose of the establishment or continuation of the relationship is avoidance of the application of section 4960.

(f) Accelerated payment or accelerated vesting resulting from an involuntary separation from employment -

(1) In general. If a payment or the lapse of a substantial risk of forfeiture is accelerated as a result of an involuntary separation from employment, generally only the value due to the acceleration of payment or vesting is treated as contingent on a separation from employment, as described in paragraphs (f)(3) and (4) of this section, except as otherwise provided in this paragraph (f). For purposes of this paragraph (f), the terms vested and substantial risk of forfeiture have the same meaning as provided in § 53.4960-2(c)(2).

(2) Nonvested payments subject to a non-service vesting condition. If (without regard to a separation from employment) vesting of a payment would depend on an event other than the performance of services, such as the attainment of a performance goal, and that vesting event does not occur prior to the employee's separation from employment and the payment vests due to the employee's involuntary separation from employment, the full amount of the payment is treated as contingent on the separation from employment.

(3) Vested payments. If an involuntary separation from employment accelerates actual or constructive payment of an amount that previously vested without regard to the separation, the portion of the payment, if any, that is contingent on the separation from employment is the amount by which the present value of the accelerated payment exceeds the present value of the payment absent the acceleration. The payment of an amount otherwise due upon a separation from employment (whether voluntary or involuntary) is not treated as an acceleration of the payment unless the payment timing was accelerated due to the involuntary nature of the separation from employment. If the value of the payment absent the acceleration is not reasonably ascertainable, and the acceleration of the payment does not significantly increase the present value of the payment absent the acceleration, the present value of the payment absent the acceleration is the amount of the accelerated payment (so the amount contingent on the separation from employment is zero). If the present value of the payment absent the acceleration is not reasonably ascertainable but the acceleration significantly increases the present value of the payment, the future value of the payment contingent on the separation from employment is treated as equal to the amount of the accelerated payment. For purposes of this paragraph (f)(3), the acceleration of a payment by 90 days or less is not treated as significantly increasing the present value of the payment. For rules on determining present value, see paragraph (f)(6) and paragraphs (h), (i) and (j) of this section.

(4) Nonvested payments subject to a service vesting condition -

(i) In general. If an involuntary separation from employment accelerates vesting of a payment, the portion of the payment that is contingent on separation from employment is the amount described in paragraph (f)(3) of this section (if any) plus the value of the lapse of the obligation to continue to perform services described in paragraph (f)(4)(ii) of this section (but the amount cannot exceed the amount of the accelerated payment, or, if the payment is not accelerated, the present value of the payment), to the extent that all of the following conditions are satisfied with respect to the payment:

(A) Vesting trigger. The payment vests as a result of an involuntary separation from employment;

(B) Vesting condition. Disregarding the involuntary separation from employment, the vesting of the payment was contingent only on the continued performance of services for the employer for a specified period of time; and

(C) Services condition. The payment is attributable, at least in part, to the performance of services before the date the payment is made or becomes certain to be made.

(ii) Value of the lapse of the obligation to continue to perform services. The value of the lapse of the obligation to continue to perform services is one percent of the amount of the accelerated payment multiplied by the number of full months between the date that the employee's right to receive the payment is vested and the date that, absent the acceleration, the payment would have been vested. This paragraph (f)(4)(ii) applies to the accelerated vesting of a payment in the nature of compensation even if the time when the payment is made is not accelerated. In that case, the value of the lapse of the obligation to continue to perform services is one percent of the present value of the future payment multiplied by the number of full months between the date that the individual's right to receive the payment is vested and the date that, absent the acceleration, the payment would have been vested.

(iii) Accelerated vesting of equity compensation. For purposes of this paragraph (f)(4), the acceleration of the vesting of a stock option or stock appreciation right (or similar arrangement) or the lapse of a restriction on restricted stock or a restricted stock unit (or a similar arrangement) is considered to significantly increase the value of the payment.

(5) Application to benefits under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan. In the case of a payment of benefits under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan, paragraph (f)(3) of this section applies to the extent benefits under the plan are vested without regard to the involuntary separation from employment, but the payment of benefits is accelerated due to the involuntary separation from employment. Paragraph (f)(4) of this section applies to the extent benefits under the plan are subject to the conditions described in paragraph (f)(4)(i) of this section. For any other payment of benefits under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan (such as a contribution made due to the employee's involuntary separation from employment), the full amount of the payment is contingent on the employee's separation from employment.

(6) Present value. For purposes of this paragraph (f), the present value of a payment is determined based on the payment date absent the acceleration and the date on which the accelerated payment is scheduled to be made. The amount that is treated as contingent on the separation from employment is the amount by which the present value of the accelerated payment exceeds the present value of the payment absent the acceleration.

(7) Examples. See § 1.280G Q/A-24(f) for examples that may be applied by analogy to illustrate the rules of this paragraph (f).

(g) Three-times-base-amount test for parachute payments -

(1) In general. To determine whether payments in the nature of compensation made to a covered employee that are contingent on the covered employee separating from employment with the ATEO are parachute payments, the aggregate present value of the payments must be compared to the individual's base amount. To do this, the aggregate present value of all payments in the nature of compensation that are made or to be made to (or for the benefit of) the same covered employee by an ATEO (or any predecessor of the ATEO) or related organization and that are contingent on the separation from employment must be determined. If this aggregate present value equals or exceeds the amount equal to 3-times the individual's base amount, the payments are parachute payments. If this aggregate present value is less than the amount equal to 3-times the individual's base amount, the payments are not parachute payments. See paragraphs (f)(6), (h), (i), and (j) of this section for rules on determining present value.

(2) Examples. The following examples illustrate the rules of this paragraph (g). For purposes of these examples, assume any entity referred to as “ATEO” is an ATEO.

(i) Example 1 (Parachute payment) -

(A) Facts. Employee A is a covered employee and an HCE of ATEO 1. Employee A's base amount is $200,000. Payments in the nature of compensation that are contingent on a separation from employment with ATEO 1 totaling $800,000 are made to Employee A on the date of Employee A's separation from employment.

(B) Conclusion. The payments are parachute payments because they have an aggregate present value at the time of the separation from employment of $800,000, which is at least equal to 3-times Employee A's base amount of $200,000 (3 × $200,000 = $600,000).

(ii) Example 2 (No parachute payment) -

(A) Facts. Assume the same facts as in paragraph (g)(2)(i) of this section (Example 1), except that the payments contingent on Employee A's separation from employment total $580,000.

(B) Conclusion. Because the aggregate present value of the payments ($580,000) is not at least equal to 3-times Employee A's base amount ($600,000), the payments are not parachute payments.

(h) Calculating present value -

(1) In general. Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph (h), for purposes of determining if a payment contingent on a separation from employment exceeds 3-times the base amount, the present value of a payment is determined as of the date of the separation from employment or, if the payment is made prior to that date, the date on which the payment is made.

(2) Deferred payments. For purposes of determining whether a payment is a parachute payment, if a payment in the nature of compensation is the right to receive payments in a year (or years) subsequent to the year of the separation from employment, the value of the payment is the present value of the payment (or payments) calculated on the basis of reasonable actuarial assumptions and using the applicable discount rate for the present value calculation that is determined in accordance with paragraph (i) of this section.

(3) Health care. If the payment in the nature of compensation is an obligation to provide health care (including an obligation to purchase or provide health insurance), then, for purposes of this paragraph (h) and for applying the 3-times-base-amount test under paragraph (g) of this section, the present value of the obligation is calculated in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. For purposes of paragraph (g) of this section and this paragraph (h), the obligation to provide health care is permitted to be measured by projecting the cost of premiums for health care insurance, even if no health care insurance is actually purchased. If the obligation to provide health care is made in coordination with a health care plan that the employer makes available to a group, then the premiums used for purposes of this paragraph (h)(3) may be the allocable portion of group premiums.

(i) Discount rate. Present value generally is determined by using a discount rate equal to 120 percent of the applicable Federal rate (determined under section 1274(d) and the regulations in part 1 under section 1274(d)), compounded semiannually. The applicable Federal rate to be used is the Federal rate that is in effect on the date as of which the present value is determined, using the period until the payment is expected to be made as the term of the debt instrument under section 1274(d). See paragraph (h) of this section for rules with respect to the date as of which the present value is determined. However, for any payment, the employer and the covered employee may elect to use the applicable Federal rate that is in effect on the date on which the parties entered into the contract that provides for the payment if that election is set forth in writing in the contract.

(j) Present value of a payment to be made in the future that is contingent on an uncertain future event or condition -

(1) Treatment based on the estimated probability of payment. In certain cases, it may be necessary to apply the 3-times-base-amount test to a payment that is contingent on separation from employment at a time when the aggregate present value of all the payments is uncertain because the time, amount, or right to receive one or more of the payments is also contingent on the occurrence of an uncertain future event or condition. In that case, the employer must reasonably estimate whether it will make the payment. If the employer reasonably estimates there is a 50-percent or greater probability that it will make the payment, the full amount of the payment is considered for purposes of the 3-times-base-amount test and the allocation of the base amount. If the employer reasonably estimates there is a less than 50-percent probability that the payment will be made, the payment is not considered for either purpose.

(2) Correction of incorrect estimates. If an ATEO later determines that an estimate it made under paragraph (j)(1) of this section was incorrect, it must reapply the 3-times-base-amount test to reflect the actual time and amount of the payment. In reapplying the 3-times-base-amount test (and, if necessary, reallocating the base amount), the ATEO must determine the aggregate present value of payments paid or to be paid as of the date described in paragraph (h) of this section using the discount rate described in paragraph (i) of this section. This redetermination may affect the amount of any excess parachute payment for a prior taxable year. However, if, based on the application of the 3-times-base-amount test without regard to the payment described in this paragraph (j), an ATEO has determined it will pay an employee an excess parachute payment or payments, then the 3-times-base-amount test does not have to be reapplied when a payment described in this paragraph (j) is made (or becomes certain to be made) if no base amount is allocated to that payment under § 53.4960-4(d)(5).

(3) Initial option value estimate. To the extent provided in published guidance of general applicability under § 601.601(d)(2), an initial estimate of the value of an option subject to paragraph (c) of this section is permitted to be made, with the valuation subsequently redetermined and the 3-times-base-amount test reapplied. Until guidance is published under section 4960, published guidance of general applicability described in § 601.601(d)(2) that is issued under section 280G applies by analogy.

(4) Examples. See § 1.280G-1, Q/A-33(d) for examples that may be applied by analogy to illustrate the rules of this paragraph (j).

(k) Base amount -

(1) In general. A covered employee's base amount is the average annual compensation for services performed as an employee of the ATEO (including compensation for services performed for a predecessor of the ATEO), and/or, if applicable, a related organization, with respect to which there has been a separation from employment, if the compensation was includible in the gross income of the individual for taxable years in the base period (including amounts that were excluded under section 911) or that would have been includible in the individual's gross income if the individual had been a United States citizen or resident. See paragraph (l) of this section for the definition of base period and for examples of base amount computations.

(2) Short or incomplete taxable years. If the base period of a covered employee includes a short taxable year or less than all of a taxable year of the employee, compensation for the short or incomplete taxable year must be annualized before determining the average annual compensation for the base period. In annualizing compensation, the frequency with which payments are expected to be made over an annual period must be taken into account. Thus, any amount of compensation for a short or incomplete taxable year that represents a payment that will not be made more often than once per year is not annualized.

(3) Excludable fringe benefits. Because the base amount includes only compensation that is includible in gross income, the base amount does not include certain items that may constitute parachute payments. For example, payments in the form of excludable fringe benefits or excludable health care benefits are not included in the base amount but may be treated as parachute payments.

(4) Section 83(b) income. The base amount includes the amount of compensation included in income under section 83(b) during the base period.

(l) Base period -

(1) In general. The base period of a covered employee is the covered employee's 5 most-recent taxable years ending before the date on which the separation from employment occurs. However, if the covered employee was not an employee of the ATEO for this entire 5-year period, the individual's base period is the portion of the 5-year period during which the covered employee performed services for the ATEO, a predecessor, or a related organization.

(2) Determination of base amount if employee separates from employment in the year hired. If a covered employee commences services as an employee and experiences a separation from employment in the same taxable year, the covered employee's base amount is the annualized compensation for services performed for the ATEO (or a predecessor or related organization) that was not contingent on the separation from employment and either was includible in the employee's gross income for that portion of the employee's taxable year prior to the employee's separation from employment (including amounts that were excluded under section 911) or would have been includible in the employee's gross income if the employee had been a United States citizen or resident.

(3) Examples. The following examples illustrate the rules of paragraph (k) of this section and this paragraph (l). For purposes of these examples, assume any entity referred to as “ATEO” is an ATEO, any entity referred to as “CORP” is not an ATEO, and all employees are HCEs of their respective employers.

(i) Example 1 (Calculation with salary deferrals) -

(A) Facts. Employee A, a covered employee of ATEO 1, receives an annual salary of $500,000 per year during the 5-year base period. Employee A defers $100,000 of salary each year under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan (none of which is includible in Employee A's income until paid in cash to Employee A).

(B) Conclusion. Employee A's base amount is $400,000 (($400,000 × 5)/5).

(ii) Example 2 (Calculation for less-than-5-year base period) -

(A) Facts. Employee B, a covered employee of ATEO 1, was employed by ATEO 1 for 2 years and 4 months preceding the year in which Employee B separates from employment. Employee B's compensation includible in gross income was $100,000 for the 4-month period, $420,000 for the first full year, and $450,000 for the second full year.

(B) Conclusion. Employee B's base amount is $390,000 (((3 × $100,000) + $420,000 + $450,000)/3). Any compensation Employee B receives in the year of separation from employment is not included in the base amount calculation.

(iii) Example 3 (Calculation for less-than-5-year base period with signing bonus) -

(A) Facts. Assume the same facts as in paragraph (l)(3)(ii)(A) of this section (Example 2), except that Employee B also received a $60,000 signing bonus when Employee B's employment with ATEO 1 commenced at the beginning of the 4-month period.

(B) Conclusion. Employee B's base amount is $410,000 ((($60,000 + (3 × $100,000)) + $420,000 + $450,000)/3). Pursuant to paragraph (k)(2) of this section, because the bonus is a payment that will not be paid more often than once per year, the bonus is not taken into account in annualizing Employee B's compensation for the 4-month period.

(iv) Example 4 (Effect of non-employee compensation) -

(A) Facts. Employee C, a covered employee of ATEO 1, was not an employee of ATEO 1 for the full 5-year base period. In 2024 and 2025, Employee C is only a director of ATEO 1 and receives $30,000 per year for services as a director. On January 1, 2026, Employee C becomes an officer and covered employee of ATEO 1. Employee C's includible compensation for services as an officer of ATEO 1 is $250,000 for each of 2026 and 2027, and $300,000 for 2028. In 2028, Employee C separates from employment with ATEO 1.

(B) Conclusion. Employee C's base amount is $250,000 ((2 × $250,000)/2). The $30,000 of director's fees paid to Employee C in each of 2024 and 2025 is not included in Employee C's base amount calculation because it was not for services performed as an employee of ATEO 1.

[T.D. 9938, 86 FR 6219, Jan. 19, 2021]

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