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Leverage and employee compensation – the perspective of human capital

Hsuan-Chu Lin (National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan)
Shao-Huai Liang (Department of Accountancy, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan)
She-Chih Chiu (Department of Accountancy, National Taipei University, New Taipei City, Taiwan)
Chieh-Yuan Chen (National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan)

International Journal of Managerial Finance

ISSN: 1743-9132

Article publication date: 9 January 2019

Issue publication date: 8 March 2019

1280

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to empirically test the predictions in Titman (1984) and Berk et al. (2010) which indicate that firms with higher leverage will pay chief executive officer (CEO) and employee more. In addition, this paper examines whether financial distressed firms utilize leverage as a bargaining tool to reduce labor costs.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper conducts ordinary least squares regression analysis to investigate: CEO compensation which represents critical employees and lower-level employee compensation which represents less critical employees. Empirical data consist of US publicly held companies during the period between 2006 and 2013.

Findings

This paper finds that firms with higher levels of leverage tend to compensate employees for their human capital risk and that financially distressed firms consider leverage a bargaining tool by which to depress labor costs, which leads to lower employee compensation as compared to that of financially healthy firms.

Research limitations/implications

This paper highlights the importance of keeping balance between human capital and labor costs. In the case that human capital risk might not be fully compensated by firms facing financial distress, vicious cycle could occur because a failure of considering human capital might invite unrecoverable consequence. This could be done in future research.

Originality/value

This paper has three contributions. First, this paper supports the Titman (1984) and Berk et al. (2010) by empirically documenting that high-leveraged firms compensate their employees for potential human capital risk. Second, this paper adds to the literature by empirically providing that human capital risk might not be fully compensated if the firms are facing financial distress. Finally, this paper contributes to the authorities by showing that employees’ interests may be sacrificed if the firm is under financial distress.

Keywords

Citation

Lin, H.-C., Liang, S.-H., Chiu, S.-C. and Chen, C.-Y. (2019), "Leverage and employee compensation – the perspective of human capital", International Journal of Managerial Finance, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 62-78. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMF-11-2017-0247

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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