Leap year 2024: Extra day doesn’t necessarily mean more pay. Why?

Click to play video: 'Will you be working for free on February 29 this leap year?'
Will you be working for free on February 29 this leap year?
WATCH: With the leap year, a once-every-four-years compensation conundrum reappears: who gets paid more because there’s an extra day in the year, and who ends up essentially working for free? Anne Gaviola explains – Feb 28, 2024

For the first time in four years, Canadians will mark Feb. 29 this Thursday.

Thousands of Canadians born on Feb. 29 will actually get to celebrate their birthday on that day, and millions more will be working on it.

However, does a leap year automatically translate into more pay? Unless you’re a certain type of worker, chances are not, experts say.

“For most employees, in fact, I’ll say the vast majority of employees, you should expect it is going to be business as usual,” said Jon Pinkus, partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP.

“This is not an unforeseen circumstance.”

What is a leap year?

Leap years exist to keep the months in sync with annual events, including equinoxes and solstices, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. That’s because, technically, it doesn’t take the earth 365 days to revolve around the sun, it takes us 365.2421 days.

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The concept of the leap year has evolved over the ages. In 46 BCE, Roman Emperor Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar as a way to deal with major seasonal drift.

Click to play video: 'Unraveling the mystery of leap years'
Unraveling the mystery of leap years

The Julian calendar was purely solar and counted a year at 365.25 days, so once every four years an extra day was added. Before that, the Romans counted a year at 355 days, at least for a time.

But still, there was drift as the solar year isn’t precisely 365.25 days, it’s 365.242 days, said Nick Eakes, an astronomy educator at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

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The Julian calendar was the model used by the Western world for hundreds of years, until Pope Gregory XIII tweaked it.

Click to play video: 'B.C. family adds third member to leap year birthday celebrations'
B.C. family adds third member to leap year birthday celebrations

His Gregorian calendar took effect in the late 16th century. It remains in use today, but it isn’t perfect as there is still a need for leap years. However, it was a big improvement as it reduced drift to mere seconds.

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Without leap years, the world as we know it would change, said Younas Khan, a physics instructor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He said, for example, the seasons would shift to different months.

How will a leap year impact your pay?

While millions of Canadians will have an extra workday on their calendar, not all employees will see it reflected on their pay stubs, said Thea Watson, chief international growth and marketing officer at BrightHR.

“The punchline for salaried workers is there really is no difference. You are paid for the salary per annum for that year, so because there’s the extra day, it doesn’t actually impact your annual salary because you’re paid for the annual time period. … If you are on a weekly pay cycle or a weekly contract, there are no changes because there’s only seven days in the week, so you’re still only paid for that week,” she said.

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“However, if you are on a monthly contract, or a daily or hourly contract that is accounting for the hours worked and the number of days worked, well because you’ve got an extra day in the month, you will get paid for that extra day.”

Click to play video: 'Leap Year baby turns 100'
Leap Year baby turns 100

Watson said BrightHR, an HR software company, has received several questions about leap year pay over the last few weeks.

“We have an AI-powered chatbot that over the last few weeks, the number of queries going into it by our current customers has been doubling, if not tripling, because everyone has this burning question,” she said.

“We’ve got everything from, ‘What is a leap year?’ to, ‘How will it impact my pay?’”

What impact does a leap year have on employers?

A leap year’s biggest impact on employers is on clarity and transparency on deadlines, as well as notice periods, Watson said.

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“There’s an extra day, so there’s a bit of housekeeping to ensure everyone’s on the same page when certain work is done,” she said.

“The other piece is around notice periods. If you have somebody that’s leaving, or you’re exiting, employer impact could be you’re paying an extra day to someone in their notice period, depending on if it’s structured by days or months.”

Click to play video: 'Leap year babies in Peterborough and Lindsay celebrate'
Leap year babies in Peterborough and Lindsay celebrate

Whether a leap year results in higher expenses or savings is an open question, Watson added.

It depends on the makeup of your employees. It you’ve got a high volume of part time or contracted by days and hours, then you will be paying an extra day,” she said.

“But then there’s also an extra day of service, business and productivity with your staff, so in all honesty, it kind of comes out in the wash both for the employer and the employee.”

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— with files from The Associated Press

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