But by the time the proposals passed into law last week, the heat from the debate appeared to have evaporated.
The measures, which passed into law under the Growth and Infrastructure Act on September 1, allow employees to relinquish rights such as claims for unfair dismissal and flexible working time to get shares worth between £2000 and £50,000.
Workers tempted to take up employee shareholder status also have the carrot of being exempt from capital gains tax if the shares rise in value. The contention from the Coalition was that it would incentivise staff to work harder for an employer in the knowledge of sharing in some of its success.
Others, including employee groups, see things differently. Critics have branded it an attack on workers' rights and a way of making it easier for firms to sack staff.
Questions were also asked about what happened to the shares if an employee leaves after a dispute, and whether it was compatible with EU law. So far very few staff or firms seem keen on taking part.
David Horne from the employment team at lawyer HBJ Gateley has not been inundated with requests for information about the new option. But he offered words of caution for anyone who might be considering swapping rights for shares.
"If employees have been employed for any length of time they need to think carefully about what they are giving up, because they would be giving up their right to be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal in exchange for shares," Horne said.
"If it is a private company, then the rights attached to those shares would have to be closely examined by a legal adviser. The employer is obliged to make sure the employees get legal advice and to pay a reasonable cost for that advice.
"They would also have to understand that at the end of the day there is no guarantee of any value for their shares, because that is all going to depend on the performance of the company."
One reason employees might not be getting involved is the range of staff incentives already out there.
These include HMRC-approved employee share-ownership schemes such as save as you earn (SAYE) and share incentive plans (SIPs), which are growing in popularity. There are also more traditional routes for staff to gain a share in a business or profit from their performance.
These can occur where someone rises to partner level in a law or accountancy firm, or if a company has a traditional bonus structure.
Incentives like more holidays and flexible working patterns have also gained greater currency as cash has been tighter during the recession.
On the employer side, there is potentially a disincentive to get involved in "rights for shares" because of the costs involved.
These includes the cost of providing staff with legal advice on the scheme, and the shares' value and if they are liable to tax or national insurance.
Colin Borland of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland said the scheme brings ambiguities for employees.
"I can see the thinking behind it," he said. "The theory is that if people have a direct interest in the enterprise they are better stewards of it, they are working harder and more diligently.
"Making it easier to transfer that into incorporated businesses or companies might be an attractive idea. However, for the employer, there are a lot of rules and hoops to go through.
"I suspect it is caught between the two - very few people think it is worth the risks or the hassle."