As if HR didn't have enough on its plate with E-Verify compliance, new FMLA regs, and EFCA planning, next year is one of those strange years with 27 bi-weekly paydays instead of 26. Bi-weekly pay programs pay employees in 14-day increments resulting in a 364 day annual pay cycle. Since there are either 365 or 366 days in a year, every 5 years or so, there is a calendar year with 27 pay periods instead of the typical 26.
The 27 pay periods for 2009 create a compensation issue for salaried employees. Bi-weekly pay is typically calculated by dividing annual salary by 26 and employees are accustomed to a payroll amount based on this division. Continuing this practice in 2009 will result in an "extra" paycheck in 2009, but the normal 26 pay periods will resume in 2010. Some commentators have characterized this as a "timing issue". It is not. There are never years with only 25 pay periods to offset the years with 27.
Employers approach this situation in two ways. Some employers adjust salaried employee bi-weekly compensation for the 27 pay period years by dividing the stated annual salary by 27 rather than 26 resulting in a lower pay for each pay period in the year. Salaried employees are paid the same gross salary in smaller increments. However, this approach can cause problems with automatic deductions. Other employers allow the extra pay check and inflated compensation, not wanting to mess with the largely automated payroll system. Both approaches will require employee communication and may be influenced by an employer's past practice. Legal issues can arise from reducing the bi-weekly salary amount.
Paying salaried employees on a semi-monthly basis (twice a month) avoids this problem because there are always 24 paydays. However, semi-monthly pay doesn't always work well for hourly employees because it may require estimating hours and overtime based on misalignment of the 7-day workweek with the 15 or 16-day pay period. Many employers don't want the expense of running two payrolls so they live with the 27 payday problem.