Dozens of companies are under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for backdating stock options. Alternatively, a company could hit a low without actually backdating its options by granting awards just before a major (positive) earnings announcement, a practice known as "spring-loading." A more extreme and more clearly illegal practice was to say that an award was exercised on a date other than its actual exercise date.
Such relation back or forward contravenes no principle of law and is determined by the intent of the parties as deduced from the instrument itself.” As a practical matter, the proper date to put on an agreement is something that corporate counsel is likely to have to make a judgment call on quite often.
This is because documents take time to draft, negotiate and execute.
Lawyers who were trained in commonwealth jurisdictions may have an ingrained concept that backdating a document is generally improper, if not illegal.
This is reflected in the Linklaters article Execution of Documents: Five Common Questions Answered, which offers the following advice for in-house lawyers: “(i) contracts may only be backdated, absent fraud, in circumstances where an original form has been lost or where terms have been fully agreed but signatures have been left to a later date and (ii) deeds may never be backdated.” Unfortunately, the article offers scant authority, and a search on Google reveals little else on the subject from the commonwealth world.
In this article, the author writes: “Backdating by itself is not generally, at least with respect to private agreements, illegal.
Rather, it is the use of the backdated documents by the parties or their counsel that may violate the law.” The US approach seems to be founded on the principle that parties to an agreement (or deed) are free to agree that the document is to take effect prior to the date of execution – this is often denoted by dating the document “as of” the earlier date. Bradley Real Estate Trust, the US Court of Appeals (7th Cir. District Attorney's Office has also issued several subpoenas in launching a criminal probe. The typical practice was to record a felicitously timed prior date as the grant date, such as the point when the stock had been at its lowest in recent months, instead of the date when the award was actually granted. Nejat Seyhun of the University of Michigan for the newspaper showed that that options granting practices between 20 often failed to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley requirement that grants of awards to executives be reported within two days of board approval (T"he Dating Game: Do Managers Designate Option Grant Dates to Increase Their Compensation? Prior research at Erik Lie at the University of Iowa found a pattern of probable options backdating in a number of companies prior to 2002.The results focused on the 51% of the grants during the period that were unscheduled and at-the-money.A separate analysis of grants issued at other than the current price of the shares at grant also shows a pattern of manipulation, but it was only about 60% as prevalent for this type of award (these awards were not very common at the time, however, because of adverse accounting rules).In the US, however, there seems to be have been much more consideration of the issue (at least according to my Google search results).