PurposeThe 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/approachThis 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.FindingsThis 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/implicationsThis 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/valueThis 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.
International Journal of Managerial Finance – Emerald Publishing
Published: Feb 4, 2019
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