Updated on April 19th, 2023

Sarbanes-Oxley Act Summary

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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What does the Sarbanes-Oxley Act do?

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“the Act”) is a federal law that was created to protect investors by improving the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures made pursuant to the securities laws, and for other purposes. Congress passed the Act in 2002 in response to widespread corporate malfeasance.  Sarbanes-Oxley Act, designed to address a fraud and transparency on company shareholders that arose from corporate insider’ conflict of interest.

Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Protection

The Act protects against whistleblower retaliation which provides that no company subject to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 may retaliate against an employee who lawfully cooperates with an investigation concerning violations of the Act or fraud on the shareholders. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act authorized a claimant to bring a securities retaliation action in federal district court because of a procedural irregularity in the prior administrative proceeding.

Sarbanes-Oxley Board of Directors

The Act established a Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, to oversee the audit of public companies that are subject to the securities laws, and related matters, in order to protect the interests of investors and further the public interest in the preparation of informative, accurate, and independent audit reports for companies the securities of which are sold to, and held by and for, public investors.

Powers of the Board

In addition to any authority granted to the Board otherwise in this Act, the Board shall have the power:

  • to sue and be sued, complain and defend, in its corporate name and through its own counsel, with the approval of the Commission, in any Federal, State, or other court;
  • to conduct its operations and maintain offices, and to exercise all other rights and powers authorized by this Act, in any State, without regard to any qualification, licensing, or other provision of law in effect in such State (or a political subdivision thereof);
  • to lease, purchase, accept gifts or donations of or otherwise acquire, improve, use, sell, exchange, or convey, all of or an interest in any property, wherever situated;
  • to appoint such employees, accountants, attorneys, and other agents as may be necessary or appropriate, and to determine their qualifications, define their duties, and fix their salaries or other compensation (at a level that is comparable to private sector self-regulatory, accounting, technical, supervisory, or other staff or management positions);
  • to allocate, assess, and collect accounting support fees established pursuant to section 109, for the Board, and other fees and charges imposed under this title; and
  • to enter into contracts, execute instruments, incur liabilities, and do any and all other acts and things necessary, appropriate, or incidental to the conduct of its operations and the exercise of its obligations, rights, and powers imposed or granted by this title.

Auditing, Quality Control, and Ethics Standards

The Board shall through adoption of standards proposed by 1 or more professional groups of accountants or advisory groups convened, and amend or otherwise modify or alter, such auditing and related attestation standards, such quality control standards, and such ethics standards to be used by registered public accounting firms in the preparation and issuance of audit reports, as required by this Act, or as may be necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors.

The Board shall conduct a continuing program of inspections to assess the degree of compliance of each registered public accounting firm and associated persons of that firm with this Act, the rules of the Board, the rules of the Commission, or professional standards, in connection with its performance of audits, issuance of audit reports, and related matters involving issuers.

The Board shall promptly file notice with the Commission of any final sanction on any registered public accounting firm or on any associated person thereof, in such form and containing such information as the Commission, by rule, may prescribe.

Improper Influence on Conduct Of Audits

It shall be unlawful, in contravention of such rules or regulations as the Commission shall prescribe as necessary and appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors, for any officer or director of an issuer, or any other person acting under the direction thereof, to take any action to fraudulently influence, coerce, manipulate, or mislead any independent public or certified accountant engaged in the performance of an audit of the financial statements of that issuer for the purpose of rendering such financial statements materially misleading.

Forfeiture Of Certain Bonuses and Profits

If an issuer is required to prepare an accounting restatement due to the material noncompliance of the issuer, as a result of misconduct, with any financial reporting requirement under the securities laws, the chief executive officer and chief financial officer of the issuer shall reimburse the issuer for–

  • any bonus or other incentive-based or equity-based compensation received by that person from the issuer during the 12-month period following the first public issuance or filing with the Commission (whichever first occurs) of the financial document embodying such financial reporting requirement; and
  • any profits realized from the sale of securities of the issuer during that 12-month period.

Insider Trades During Pension Fund Blackout Periods

In general, it shall be unlawful for any director or executive officer of an issuer of any equity security (other than an exempted security), directly or indirectly, to purchase, sell, or otherwise acquire or transfer any equity security of the issuer (other than an exempted security) during any blackout period with respect to such equity security if such director or officer acquires such equity security in connection with his or her service or employment as a director or executive officer.

Any profit realized by a director or executive officer referred to in paragraph (1) from any purchase, sale, or other acquisition or transfer in violation of this subsection shall inure to and be recoverable by the issuer, irrespective of any intention on the part of such director or executive officer in entering into the transaction.

An action to recover profits in accordance with this subsection may be instituted at law or in equity in any court of competent jurisdiction by the issuer, or by the owner of any security of the issuer in the name and in behalf of the issuer if the issuer fails or refuses to bring such action within 60 days after the date of request, or fails diligently to prosecute the action thereafter, except that no such suit shall be brought more than 2 years after the date on which such profit was realized.

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