Yesterday, as the SEC’s Division of Enforcement wrapped up its fiscal year, it announced another perquisites enforcement action. The latest action involves Hilton Worldwide Holdings and is the second perks-related enforcement action in just the last few months. We list perks cases in our “Perks” Practice Area, and you can see they aren’t too frequent — so to see two in just the last few months is surprising.
The SEC’s order provides some of the details and says the company failed to disclose $1.7 million worth of travel-related benefits to its CEO and NEOs.
Items that Hilton incorrectly viewed as business expenses and paid for on behalf of its Named Executive Officers, but did not disclose, include, in the case of the CEO, expenses associated with personal use of corporate aircraft, and in the case of Named Executive Officers, expenses associated with hotel stays, as well as taxes related to such items. As a result, Hilton understated “All Other Compensation” portion of its Named Executive Officers’ compensation by an annual average of approximately $425,000 in the company’s 2016 – 2019 proxy statements.
According to the SEC’s order, Hilton’s system for identifying, tracking and calculating perquisites incorrectly applied a standard whereby a business purpose would be sufficient to determine that certain items were not perquisites or personal benefits that required disclosure.
The SEC’s order acknowledges that Hilton took prompt remedial acts and cooperated with the Commission:
Among other things, the order says after receipt of a written document and information request from the Commission staff, Hilton conducted an internal review of its perquisite disclosures and its system for identifying, tracking and calculating perquisites. On April 24, 2020, Hilton filed a definitive proxy statement, which, among other things, provided revised disclosures regarding perquisites and personal benefits provided to its CEO in 2017 and 2018 and to other Named Executive Officers for the same time period.
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Hilton consented to the SEC’s cease-and-desist order, which requires Hilton to pay a $600,000 civil penalty.
Perks can be tricky. To help guard against this type of action, we have a 102-page chapter on Perks & Other Personal Benefits as part of Lynn & Borges’ “Executive Compensation Disclosure Treatise” posted on this site. Also, if you missed the perks session at last week’s “2020 Proxy Disclosure” and “17th Annual Executive Compensation” conferences, you can access the video archives, or if you didn’t register to attend, you can register now to watch any and all sessions.
-Lynn Jokela, CompensationStandards.com October 1, 2020
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