We often get questions on deadlines associated with the shareholder resolution process. Because SEC rules can be difficult to read, I have outlined the Shareholder Resolution Timeline. This won’t answer all the questions, but will hopefully make the process a little more digestible.
When companies do not engage with their shareholders on salient ESG issues, or they make insufficient progress, shareholders can resort to filing a resolution to be included in the company’s proxy statement and to be voted on at the company’s next annual general meeting (AGM). While the SEC approved several changes to the 14a(8) shareholder resolution process in the final months of the Trump administration, the timeline did not change.
According to the SEC, a proposal “must be received at the company’s principal executive offices not less than 120 calendar days before the release date of the previous year’s annual meeting proxy statement. Both the release date and the deadline for receiving rule 14a-8 proposals for the next annual meeting should be identified in that proxy statement.” Thankfully, a company’s proxy statement is required to state the deadline for resolution submissions for the following year.
After a proposal is filed, the company has 14 days to ask the proponent to fix any procedural requirements (e.g. proof of ownership, word count) if they are not met. The proponent then has 14 days to resolve those issues. If the proponent does not respond or resolve the issues, the company can appeal to the SEC to exclude the proposal. The company cannot omit the resolution without giving the proponent a chance to resolve the issues, or without an appeal to the SEC.
The company has up to 80 days before its proxy is printed to challenge the proposal via a no-action request to the SEC. The company is required to provide a copy of the no-action submission to the proponents and will be published on the SEC website. After a company files a no-action request, such as substantial implementation or micro management (full list for potential exclusion, here), the proponent can appeal this challenge to the SEC. The SEC’s timeline on this decision is usually driven by the company’s proxy printing; however, the SEC does not have to wait for the proponent’s appeal, and can make a decision at any time. Because of this, it is recommended that the proponent inform the SEC on their plans to respond, and submit their appeal to the SEC as soon as possible, generally within 30 days of receiving the no-action.The SEC no longer has to respond to the company’s no-action request in writing, but rather can post their advice to their website on whether the proposal can be omitted from the company’s proxy.
Oftentimes after a no-action request is submitted by the company, the proponents decide to withdraw the proposal, usually after they reach a mutual agreement with the company. While the proponent can withdraw their proposal any time up until the day of the shareholder meeting, we generally try to withdraw before the company’s proxy statement is printed. It is sometimes preferable to withdraw the proposal before the SEC sides with the company allowing it to omit the proposal, if the company’s no action arguments are compelling.
If the proponent does not withdraw the proposal, and the SEC does not rule in favor of the company to omit it from the proxy statement, the company has to send a management statement to the proponent. The statement, typically referred to as the company’s opposition statement, must be sent at least 30 days before the proxy is printed, recommending shareholders vote either for or against the shareholder proposal. If the statement of opposition makes any arguments that are false or misleading, the proponent can ask the company to make the appropriate changes. If the company makes any flagrant errors, the proponent can write to the SEC to challenge the statement, though the SEC does not have to respond to this challenge.
In preparation of the annual general meeting (AGM), the proponent has a few opportunities to “build the vote” by informing other shareholders why they should vote in favor of the proposal.
- The proponent can write and publish a Proxy Memo, detailing more information on why they filed the resolution, and why voting for the resolution is necessary. This memo is usually published on the proponent’s website and distributed to other shareholders through partner organizations.
- The proponent can also file an Exempt Solicitation. Similar to a proxy memo, it expands on the proposal and argues why other shareholders should vote in favor of the proposal. This document must be reformatted by a third party to be uploaded to the SEC Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval (EDGAR). It is then distributed to all subscribers to SEC filings for that company and is publicly available. This generally reaches more shareholders, and asset management firms.
Leading up to the AGM, to continue to “build the vote,” proponents can also reach out to proxy service companies or firms that prepare company reports and provide proxy voting service on behalf of shareholders. The proponent can also reach out to large asset managers to inform them of their arguments for voting in favor of the resolution, and can promote their proposal through the media to build awareness and support.
After the proposal is voted on at the AGM, the company is required to publish the results of the vote, and other matters discussed, in an 8-K SEC filing within 4 days of the AGM. These filings can be found on the company’s website.
The timeline can be complicated, so you may want to refer to the table below.
|120 Days from release date of previous years company proxy||Deadline to submit shareholder proposal|
|14 Days (after submission)||Company exclusion based on eligibility or requirements|
|14 Days (after exclusion)||Proponent can resubmit proposal fixing the issues|
|80 Days (before proxy is printed)||Company challenge to SEC with a no-action request|
|ASAP (after No Action request)||Proponent to challenge or appeal the no-action request|
|Any Time after No Action request||SEC makes a decision on no-action request|
|Any Time before AGM||Shareholder can withdraw proposal|
|30 Days before proxy is printed||Company issues Management Statement recommending how to vote on the proposal, to be printed in the proxy|
|Any Time (usually 6 weeks) before AGM||Proponent published or files Proxy Memo / Exempt Solicitation|
|~30 days before AGM||Proponent “builds vote” with Proxy Service companies|
|4 days after AGM||Company files 8-K with proposal vote results|