Statistical properties of phase-shift algorithms are investigated for the case of additive Gaussian intensity noise. Based on a bivariate normal distribution, a generally valid probability-density function for the random phase error is derived. This new description of the random phase error shows properties that cannot be obtained through Gaussian error propagation. The assumption of a normally distributed phase error is compared with the derived probability-density function. For small signal-to-noise ratios the assumption of a normally distributed phase error is not valid. Additionally, it is shown that some advanced systematic-error-compensating algorithms have a disadvantageous effect on the random phase error. error, systematic error, additive Gaussian noise, phase-measuring interferometry.