As I work with companies expanding into the UK, one issue that comes up regularly is whether to transfer the employer social taxes due on equity income (known as employer National Insurance Contributions or NICs) to employees. Employer NICs are due on equity income if the taxable event occurs at a time when there is a market for the company’s shares (typically, when the shares are publicly traded). If due, employer NICs are payable at a rate of currently 13.8% and are uncapped (meaning they are due no matter how much income the employee realizes). This distinguishes the UK from many other countries (e.g., the US or Germany) where social taxes are also due but only up to a certain threshold (or income ceiling). Often the employee has already reached this threshold with her regular salary such that no social taxes are due on equity income.
Because employer NICs in the UK are uncapped, if a company makes significant equity grants to employees in the UK, the employer NICs liability can be crushing. But the UK again distinguishes itself from virtually all countries by allowing the employer to transfer the employer NICs due on income realized from most equity awards to the employee.