Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Cliff Vesting

Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Cliff Vesting

Cliff Vesting

An employee benefits structure that is granted after a specified service period, encouraging retention and commitment.

What Is Cliff Vesting?

Cliff vesting is a common concept in the world of employee benefits and compensation, particularly in the context of stock options, retirement plans, and other long-term incentive programmes. It refers to a specific schedule that outlines when an employee becomes fully entitled to the benefits or contributions made on their behalf.

Under the cliff vesting structure, an employee must complete a predetermined period of service before they can access these benefits without any restrictions.


What Are The Different Types Of Vesting Schedules?

  • Cliff Vesting: In cliff vesting, employees become fully vested in a specific benefit after a set period of time, often referred to as the vesting cliff. Until this cliff is reached, the employee has no ownership rights to the benefits. Once the cliff is crossed, the employee becomes fully vested, gaining full entitlement to the benefits.
  • Graded Vesting: This allows employees to gradually earn ownership rights to their benefits over a period of time. For example, an employee might become 20% vested after the first year, 40% vested after the second year, and so on, until they reach full vesting after a predetermined number of years.

What Is Cliff Scheduling And How Does It Work?

Cliff scheduling is the specific arrangement of time periods and conditions under which cliff vesting takes place. It involves setting a vesting cliff, often measured in years, at the end of which employees become fully vested in their benefits. Let’s delve into how cliff scheduling works:

  • Vesting Period: Companies determine a vesting period during which employees must remain with the company to become eligible for full benefits. For instance, consider a company that offers stock options to its employees with a four-year vesting period.
  • Vesting Cliff: Within the vesting period, there’s a predetermined point called the vesting cliff. Before crossing this cliff, employees have no ownership rights to the benefits. Using the same example, if the vesting cliff is set at one year, employees would not be entitled to any benefits until they complete one year of service.
  • Full Vesting: Once the vesting cliff is surpassed, employees achieve full vesting. This means they gain complete ownership of the benefits, whether it’s stock options, retirement contributions, or any other incentive.
  • Impact Of Departure: If an employee leaves the company before the vesting cliff, they typically forfeit any benefits associated with cliff vesting. However, after the cliff is crossed, even if an employee departs, they will have access to the benefits they have already vested.
  • Simplified Example: Imagine an employee joining a company offering a retirement plan with cliff vesting. The company’s vesting schedule states that employees become fully vested after three years of service. If the employee leaves before the three-year mark, they would not be entitled to any of the employer’s contributions to their retirement plan. But if they complete three years with the company, they would gain complete ownership of the contributions.

What Are The Benefits Of Cliff Vesting?

  • Retention Incentive: Cliff vesting encourages employee retention since the full benefits are only accessible after a certain period of service. This can be particularly beneficial for startups and high-growth companies aiming to retain key talent.
  • Motivation: Knowing that their benefits are tied to tenure, employees are more likely to remain committed to the organisation’s goals and objectives.
  • Simplicity: Cliff vesting can be simpler to administer and understand compared to graded vesting, where vesting percentages change over time.