Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. Here’s what it means for your company.

Beth Dean 06.24.21

The History

Last week (June 17, 2021), President Biden signed legislation that declares Juneteenth a federal holiday, going forward. Let’s explore what that means for you and your company.

Juneteenth is celebrated each year on June 19. It honors the day in 1865 when American forces declared that enslaved people in Texas were to be freed, marking the official end of slavery. It’s also referred to as Emancipation Day.

While this holiday has been celebrated informally for years, it historically has had trouble gaining visibility. Declaring Juneteenth as a federal holiday shows a commitment from the government to recognizing and celebrating the turning point in our country’s history.

What This Means to Companies

Last summer, the Black Lives Matter movement helped bring much-needed additional attention to equality issues. In the wake of those, several large companies began voluntarily adding Juneteenth to their roster of paid holidays, including Apple, Nike, Target, JCPenny, and Spotify.

Now that it’s officially a federal holiday, it opens questions for employers on how to handle it correctly in the workplace. 

For federal employees, Juneteenth is now a paid holiday, allowing those workers to observe the day away from the workplace.

For private businesses, though, the question lingers of whether it’s mandatory to give employees that day off and add it to the roster of paid holidays. 

Generally speaking, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require businesses to provide paid days off for holidays. It’s a voluntary benefit that companies can choose to offer or not offer.

However, as part of creating a great place to work and helping to entice top workers to join and stay at their companies, many employers do voluntarily offer the suite of paid holidays to their employees. If they choose to offer paid days off on specified federal holidays, they should be consistent across their employee population.

Employers should look at their current handbook regarding federal holidays to consider how they should observe Juneteenth moving forward.

If your workplace does not currently pay employees for holidays or give them the day off, then Juneteenth can be treated the same way. On the other hand, if your company does allow for paid days off on federal holidays, then Juneteenth should be added to that roster, both in practice, and in writing in your company’s handbook.

Please keep in mind that federal holidays are meant to be observed by all employees at a company; not just a specific race, religion, or gender. Juneteenth isn’t meant to single out any employees and should be equally observed by all. 

If you’re a current Nextep client, please contact your HR business partner at Nextep for help in modifying your company’s employee handbook and getting further guidance on this new holiday. 

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