This leap year, some financial experts say they’re seeing an unexpected trend: employees asking if they get paid for working on Feb. 29.

Every four years, the calendar gains a day to sync up with the Earth’s movement around the sun. Yet inquiries about what it means for paycheques hasn’t previously been noticeable. “This is one of the first times that we’ve seen a lot of interest around this topic and questions of ‘Am I working for free on the 29th?'” says Brittany Taylor, an employment lawyer and partner with Rudner Law in the Greater Toronto Area.

She speculates increased awareness of employment rights might be behind the leap day payroll chatter. The last leap year was in 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic transformed the way many people think about work. “During the pandemic, employees [had] a perspective shift about the importance of work versus other things in their life and they’re more likely to speak out when they see something that might look a little bit off.”

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The payroll changes of an added workday are mostly considered on a case-by-case basis. Factors at play can include how frequently the employee is paid — weekly, biweekly or monthly. It also depends on whether the worker is salaried or hourly.

Those paid by the hour emerged as winners on Feb. 29. Since they’re paid for time worked, non-salaried employees typically cash in for every minute of the extra calendar day they’re on the job. For salaried workers, it could look different. “Employees are generally not entitled when they’re on an annual salary to receive any type of extra compensation just because there’s an extra day in February,” says Taylor.

Essentially, paycheques for salaried employees are divided across the pay period, which is 26 paycheques for biweekly employees or 12 for monthly payments. This means most workers who are paid every other week won’t see any changes to their paycheques for working Feb. 29. But this leap year, some salaried employees could see a slight bump in their paycheques, says Ian Calvert, vice-president and principal of wealth planning at HighView Financial Group.

“There will be 53 Mondays and 53 Tuesdays this year,” he says, noting a common year has 52 weeks and one day to make up 365 calendar days, but a leap year extends that.

This means a salaried worker paid weekly or biweekly on Mondays or Tuesdays could see 27 paycheques, and not 26, Calvert adds. However, not every employer would handle it that way, he warned. Nonetheless, “if nothing is done and you’re paid a salary, you’re going to find a little bit of a bonus this year,” he said.

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Employees’ contract should stipulate the frequency of a paycheque. For example, if the contract mentions a weekly pay, an employee can reverse-engineer the hourly rate but that doesn’t mean they will get paid hourly. Taylor says there are a few legal caveats for workers that might allow them to earn more because of the leap day.

If a salaried worker’s extra day of work puts them below minimum wage, they must be compensated.
“The employer has to make sure that in no circumstances is the employee receiving less than that minimum wage,” she says, noting this also applies to overtime. For example, if working on Feb. 29 puts workers over 44 hours of work in a week, they are entitled to extra pay just like any other week. Salaried workers can also claim extra pay on Feb. 29 if they’ve bargained for it in their contracts.

Taylor says some unionized workplaces have included leap day pay as a part of their collective agreements. While leap day is a talker this year, Stuart Rudner, managing partner at Rudner Law, says he hasn’t previously seen any interest. “In 25 years of practice as an employment lawyer, I can count the number of times this has been raised on one hand,” he said in an emailed response.

“It’s not that the discussion has changed since there was no discussion of the issue before,” he said. “Rather, there has been a new discussion about whether it is fair that some people are working a day ‘for free.'”

In essence, he said it affects only a small portion of workers. “Just as the addition of a new statutory holiday can reduce the number of workdays in a year — as we saw when Family Day was introduced — a leap year can add a working day once every four years, for which the vast majority of workers are paid.”

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