RSUs After Termination: What Happens If The Employee Quits or Voluntarily Resigns‍

RSUs After Termination: What Happens If The Employee Quits or Voluntarily Resigns‍

August 30, 2023

RSUs After Termination: What Happens If The Employee Quits or Voluntarily Resigns‍

Picture this: You've just secured a top-tier software engineer for your fast-growing startup. They're not just any engineer; they're the kind you believe could be a cornerstone for your company's future success. You go all out, offering a competitive salary, and excellent benefits, and to seal the deal—Restricted Stock Units (RSUs). You both shake hands, and they come on board, eager to contribute to your next groundbreaking project. But then, two years into their tenure, they decide to move on, handing in their resignation. You're left with a critical question: What happens to the RSUs you so carefully offered?

In scenarios like this, the decisions you make can have far-reaching implications, not just for your departing employee but for your startup as a whole. As a founder or company owner, understanding how RSUs function after an employee quits or is terminated is vital. This knowledge can impact your company's financial stability, equity structure, and even its reputation in the competitive job market. Hence, this article will help you explore the nitty-gritty details of what actually happens to RSUs when an employee leaves and how you can use this knowledge to reinforce loyalty and commitment within your organization.

What are RSUs?

Before looking into the specifics of what happens to RSUs after termination, it's important to understand what RSUs are. RSUs are a form of equity-based compensation issued by an employer to an employee in the form of company stock. Unlike stock options, which give employees the option to buy stock at a future date at a predetermined price, RSUs provide the stock directly once certain conditions are met, usually based on time or performance milestones.

RSUs offer employees the potential for a significant payday but also keep them invested in the company's future. They align the financial interests of the employee with those of the company, making it a win-win situation, if managed effectively.

What Happens to RSUs After Termination?

When an employee decides to part ways with your company, whether by quitting or being terminated, the status of their RSUs becomes a pivotal concern. The general rules about RSUs after termination are often outlined in the award agreement or your company’s stock plan, but several variables can affect the outcome. Below are some additional nuances you may want to consider:

1. Pro-Rata Vesting

In some cases, an employee may be entitled to a pro-rata vesting of their RSUs. For example, if they are midway through a vesting period when they leave, some agreements will allow them to keep a proportional amount of the units that would have vested during that period.

2. Leave of Absence Policies

Some companies have policies that extend vesting schedules during leaves of absence, such as maternity or paternity leave, or sabbaticals. These policies may specify whether the leave must be paid or unpaid and how long the leave can last while still allowing for the extension of the vesting schedule.

3. Death or Disability

Special provisions often exist in the case of an employee's death or disability. The RSUs may fully vest immediately, or there could be a transfer of the unvested RSUs to a designated beneficiary.

4. Post-Employment Restrictions

Certain companies have restrictive clauses that affect RSUs even after they have vested. For example, an employee might not be able to sell or transfer the shares for a specific period post-termination. These restrictions are designed to protect the company’s interests and should be clearly outlined in the award agreement.

5. Legal Implications

Termination conditions can sometimes lead to legal disputes over RSUs. For instance, if an employee claims that they were wrongfully terminated just before a significant vesting milestone, they might seek legal recourse to recover those shares. Being well-versed in the laws surrounding RSUs can save you from potential litigation.

6. Amendments and Discretionary Changes

It’s important to note that some RSU agreements include a clause that allows the company to make amendments. Such discretionary changes might be applied in unique circumstances but should always be made cautiously and transparently to avoid future conflicts or misunderstandings.

Understanding these intricate details can help you navigate employee termination and RSUs, equipping you to make informed decisions that are both legally sound and ethically responsible.

Strategies to Reinforce Loyalty and Commitment

RSUs are a potent tool for employee retention, but they aren't a silver bullet. To truly build a loyal and committed workforce, you need a multi-faceted approach that goes beyond financial incentives. Here are some of the advanced strategies that can complement your RSU offerings and strengthen employee bonds with your company:

1. Dynamic Vesting Schedules

Consider implementing dynamic vesting schedules that adapt based on individual or team performance metrics. This approach rewards high performers with accelerated vesting, incentivizing them to continue exceeding expectations. However, be sure to balance this with a minimum guaranteed vesting to ensure fairness.

2. Milestone-Based Bonuses

In addition to time-based vesting, think about offering milestone-based bonuses that are tied to the achievement of specific project goals or company-wide targets. This makes the employees feel directly connected to the company's success and motivated to contribute to significant milestones.

3. Employee Recognition Programs

Don't underestimate the power of public recognition. Creating an employee-of-the-month program or presenting periodic performance awards can boost morale and give your team members something to strive for, aside from financial gains.

4. Rotational Assignments

Allow employees to rotate through different departments or take on varied roles within the organization. This not only keeps them engaged but also helps them develop a well-rounded skill set, which can be beneficial for both the individual and the company.

5. Open-Door Policy

Maintain an open-door policy where employees can freely express their concerns, ideas, or feedback without fear of retribution. Knowing that the management is approachable and values their opinions can significantly enhance employee loyalty.

6. Professional Development Funds

Allocate a budget for each employee to pursue professional development opportunities such as workshops, courses, or certifications. When you invest in your employees' growth, they are more likely to reciprocate with loyalty and dedication to your company.

7. Mentorship Programs

Establish mentorship programs that pair newer or less experienced employees with seasoned veterans in the company. Mentorship can be a powerful motivator, making employees feel supported and valued, which in turn boosts their commitment to the organization.

8. Transparency in Decision-Making

Transparency isn't just about being open with company data; it's about involving employees in decisions that impact them. Whether it's changes in RSU policies, company restructuring, or new project developments, keeping employees in the loop fosters a culture of trust and mutual respect.

Successful implementation of these strategies alongside your RSU offerings can help you create a well-rounded retention strategy that goes beyond financial incentives. These tactics help foster a culture where employees feel valued, engaged, and committed to your organization's long-term success.

How to Protect Your Company Interests After Termination of an Employee's RSUs

Terminating an employee's RSUs is not just a matter of individual impact; it also has wider implications for your company. This delicate situation needs to be handled with care to protect both the company’s interests and its reputation. Here are some strategies you can employ to ensure your company stays on firm ground during and after this process:

1. Clear Communication

Ensure that all policies regarding RSUs are communicated clearly at the outset and during an employee's tenure. A well-documented policy minimizes confusion and potential disputes down the line.

2. Legal Counsel

Consult your lawyer or legal team when drafting and amending RSU agreements. Ensuring that your agreements are legally robust can save you a great deal of hassle and potential litigation in the future.

3. Clawback Provisions

Consider incorporating clawback provisions in your RSU agreements. These allow the company to reclaim vested or unvested shares under specific conditions, such as violation of a non-compete clause or cases of misconduct.

4. Exit Interviews

Conduct thorough exit interviews to understand the departing employee’s perspective and to communicate your company's stance on the RSU vesting and forfeiture. This process allows both parties to close this chapter in a clear and transparent manner.

5. Company-Wide Training

Provide training to HR personnel and management about the nuances of RSUs and how they work in termination scenarios. Being well-versed in these details ensures consistent and fair treatment of all employees.

6. Restricted Periods

Implement a restricted period following the termination during which the employee cannot sell or transfer their vested RSUs. This can be especially important if the employee has access to sensitive company information.

7. Monitoring Share Sales

Keep an eye on the sales of shares originating from vested RSUs, particularly for high-ranking employees or those with access to confidential information. Abnormal selling patterns could indicate that the individual had insider information, which could be harmful to the company.

8. Financial Auditing

Consider conducting an internal financial audit after a significant number of terminations or if a high-ranking employee or executive with a large RSU grant leaves. This will help ensure that there are no irregularities and that your company's financial statements accurately reflect these changes.

By taking these precautionary steps, you not only protect your company’s interests but also build a fair and transparent culture that future employees will find attractive. In the long run, your approach to handling RSUs post-termination can become a strong selling point for potential high-quality recruits.


Employee resignations and RSU terminations are just some of the inevitable hiccups in business. But how you manage these situations can greatly influence your company's financial stability, reputation, and ability to attract top talent. Here, the article explored the details of what happens to RSUs after an employee leaves, strategies for reinforcing loyalty, and ways to protect your company’s interests during these transitions.

Your approach to handling RSUs isn't just a financial consideration; it's a reflection of your company culture and your commitment to fairness and transparency. Being well-informed about the complexities of RSUs and taking a strategic approach can set you apart as an employer of choice, capable of navigating the inevitable ups and downs that come with running a dynamic organization.

Want to know more about company-worker alignment and how to revitalize your team with equity compensation? Book a demo with Upstock today for a sneak peek of how RSUs can help reinforce loyalty and commitment to your team toward company success.

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