Stock options are a form of compensation granted to an employee, by an employer, in lieu of salary and wages. Stock options grant employees the right to purchase a certain number of shares at a given price . Traditionally, firms have compensated their employees through some combination of salaries, commissions, or bonuses. Less prevalent was compensation tied to firm's performance, such as stock and/or stock options. Historically, performance-based compensation was designed for corporate executives and officers of the firm. This form of compensation helped align the interests of management and shareholders. Stock options encourage managers to maximize shareholder value. Although stock options were once reserved for upper management, there has been a trend to include more employees.
Generally, the future purchase price, or strike price, is equal to the market price of the stock at the time of grant. When an employee exercises options, he or she pays the firm the strike price for the shares, regardless of the then- current market price.
Employees usually remain with the firm for a specified period before options vest. Upon vesting, the employees may exercise their options. If an employee leaves the firm, outstanding vested and unvested options are forfeited or cancelled. Options not exercised by a date specified in the option contract will expire. When an employee decides to exercise their stock options, they may either purchase the underlying stock at a discounted price or receive an equivalent cash premium. This transfer from the firm to the employee becomes part of the employee's taxable income for the year.
Firms now grant stock options to a much broader range of employees for many reasons. A firm's motivation in implementing a stock option plan includes increased employee productivity, the attraction and retention of valuable human capital, reduction of short-run compensation costs, increased cash flows,