ESG Impact Webinar SeriesAfter months of anticipation, on March 21, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted 3:1 to propose climate change-related disclosure rules that would implement prescriptive climate-related disclosure requirements (which would be applicable for most public companies) in a wide array of climate-related areas, including with respect to governance, outlook, risk management, GHG emissions, climate-related targets and goals and financial statement disclosures. These proposed rules, which are intended to provide investors with consistent, comparable, and reliable climate-related information, would represent a major shift in the public company disclosure landscape and will require significant advance effort by public companies to facilitate compliance.

Join Bass, Berry & Sims and leading environmental, social and governance (ESG) thought leaders for the next installment in our ESG Impact Webinar series on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Our panelists will share their experience and perspectives on what in-house counsel should consider as it relates to these proposed climate change disclosure rules. Discussion topics will include:

  • Overview of the Proposed Rules.
  • Required Disclosure under Regulation S-X.
  • Required Disclosure under Regulation S-K.
  • Phase-In Periods.
  • Practical Takeaways and Next Steps.


Continue Reading [WEBINAR] What’s Next in ESG? Understanding the Proposed SEC Climate Change Disclosure Rules

Institutional investors and proxy advisory firms continue developing and refining their policies regarding board diversity. While gender diversity on public company boards has been in focus for some time now, institutional investors and proxy advisory firms are also increasingly focusing on racial and ethnic diversity as part of their evolving approach to board diversity.

This post summarizes published board diversity policies of several institutional investors and proxy advisory firms into a singular resource for ease of reference. Below the initial breakdown is a description of specific policies concerning board diversity shareholder proposals. 

Continue Reading A Summary of Certain Proxy Advisory Firm and Institutional Investor Board Diversity Policies

I recently provided comments for an article in The Wall Street Journal about public company disclosures related to climate change risks. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to announce a rule proposal on climate-related disclosures this year. In anticipation of that new proposal, the SEC has been sending comment letters to some companies asking for clarification about their climate change risks to help inform investors in their decision-making.

Continue Reading Insight on Disclosures Related to Climate Change Risks

On December 15, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed enhanced disclosure requirements and amendments to the rules regarding issuer share repurchases and Rule 10b5-1 plans. The proposals related to Rule 10b5-1 plans address perceived gaps in the current reporting obligations and concerns over insider trading, which SEC Chairman Gary Gensler first raised in early summer 2021. Likewise, the share repurchase proposals aim to “lessen the information asymmetries between issuers and investors.”

These topics have received political, media and academic commentary over the years but little SEC enforcement attention.  The key takeaway is that these proposals would be very impactful and make substantive changes to how such activities are conducted today.  The relatively short comment period (45 days from the date of Federal Register publication) means these proposals could become final rules in the first half of 2022.

Share Repurchases

The proposed rules regarding share repurchases, also known as buybacks, include, among other items, repurchase disclosure on a new “Form SR” and increased periodic disclosures by amending Item 703 of Regulation S-K.

  • New Form SR
    • Issuers would be required to furnish (but not file) Form SR before the end of the first business day after the day on which the issuer repurchases shares. (Note Section 16 reporting is within two business days and Form 8-K reporting is within four business days.) Form SR would require disclosure of the following:
      • Date of the repurchase.
      • Identification of the class of securities purchased.
      • The total number of shares purchased, including all issuer repurchases whether or not made pursuant to publicly announced plans or programs.
      • The average price paid per share.
      • The aggregate total number of shares purchased on the open market.
      • The aggregate total number of shares purchased in reliance on the safe harbor in Exchange Act Rule 10b-18.
      • The aggregate total number of shares purchased pursuant to a plan intended to satisfy the affirmative defense conditions of Exchange Act Rule 10b5-1(c).


Continue Reading SEC Proposes New Rules for Share Repurchases and Rule 10b5-1 Plans

As you have inevitably read about, in September 2021, the Biden administration instructed the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to write a rule that would generally require employers with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly testing and mask-wearing for unvaccinated employees.

OSHA published its final rule on Friday, November 5, which generally requires, among other things, employees to be vaccinated or start testing by January 4, 2022, with an earlier (December 5, 2021) enforcement date regarding the rule’s mask mandate, among other requirements for employers. Within 24 hours of the publication of the final rule, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency motion to stay enforcement of the vaccine requirement and required the administration to respond by Monday, November 8. In its response, the administration asked the court to lift the stay. Final resolution of the matter is pending.

Continue Reading Potential SEC Disclosure Considerations Related to Vaccine Mandates

I recently co-authored an article for Corporate Counsel with Stephanie Bignon, assistant general counsel at Delta Air Lines, highlighting key environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure developments. “Public companies are facing a rapidly changing regulatory and investor landscape with respect to climate and other environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosures,” the authors observed.

One area of particular regulatory focus from the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) is climate change, as several new initiatives aim to revamp the existing disclosure framework in this area, including:

  • Indications from SEC Chairman Gary Gensler that new climate change disclosure rules will be proposed in late 2021 or early 2022.
  • Significantly enhanced focus of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance on climate-related disclosure in public company filings, including a sample SEC Staff comment letter sent to at least dozens of companies questioning whether consideration had been given to including climate-related disclosures in SEC filings.
  • SEC Division of Enforcement announcement in early 2021 that it is creating a Climate and ESG Task Force, and signaling that enforcement actions in the climate change area under existing SEC rules may be forthcoming.

With this heightened focus, we concluded the article with five practical takeaways for companies:

Continue Reading Key ESG Disclosure Developments

In light of the increasing level of investor and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure matters and the associated increase in the scope of ESG disclosures included by public companies both within and outside of SEC filings, public companies are well-advised to assess whether their disclosure control and procedures should be modified to address ESG disclosures.

Background on ESG Disclosures

As background, the SEC rules that implemented the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 require public companies to have disclosure controls and procedures (which are designed to ensure that the information required to be disclosed by a public company in its Exchange Act filings is recorded, processed, summarized and reported in accordance with SEC rules).  Additionally, the SEC recommended that public companies establish disclosure committees as a component of their disclosure controls and procedures, and a significant majority of public companies have disclosure committees consistent with the SEC’s recommendation.

Disclosure committees may also be helpful to public companies as a means to support the Section 302 and 906 certifications required to be provided by the CEO and CFO on a quarterly basis under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in connection with disclosures provided in periodic reports.

The amount of ESG disclosures included in SEC filings has significantly increased in recent years. This trend will no doubt continue once the SEC’s climate change rules expected to be proposed later this year or early next year become effective.  Additionally, there has been a significant expansion in the scope of ESG disclosures being provided by many public companies (particularly large-cap companies) outside of SEC filings, including via corporate social responsibility or similar reports, and company website disclosures.

Continue Reading Should Public Companies Establish an ESG Disclosure Committee?

As we’ve previously blogged, in November 2020, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted amendments to the Regulation S-K items related to Management’s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) as well as certain selected financial disclosures.  The amendments became effective on February 10, 2021 (effective date) but registrants were not required to apply the amended rules until their first filing related to their fiscal year ending on or after August 9, 2021 (mandatory compliance date).

As a result, compliance with these amendments will be required for most calendar-year companies beginning with the Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2021.  However, companies with fiscal years that ended September 30, 2021, will be required to comply with the new rules in their upcoming 10-K.  Registrants will also be required to apply the amended rules in a registration statement and prospectus that on its initial filing date is required to contain financial statements for a period on or after the mandatory compliance date.

While many issuers voluntarily early adopted the amendments covering Items 301 and 302 during this last 10-K reporting cycle, based on our experience a large number of registrants chose not to early adopt the amendments to Item 303 of Regulation S-K, relating to the MD&A section, because of the short time period after their adoption before the first 10-K.  As a result, this fall will be an ideal time for many companies to analyze what impacts the new rules will have on their upcoming MD&A.

Continue Reading New MD&A Rules Are Here – A Slide Deck to Help with Internal Discussions