July 12, 2022

Although significant holiday changes don’t occur frequently, employers who offer paid time off (PTO) and follow the federal holidays must stay on top of legal holiday additions. You’ll need to:

  • Update your holiday and PTO policy.
  • Be aware of how holidays affect payroll and processing direct deposits.
  • Keep up with your state’s legal holiday requirements.

With the addition of Juneteenth in 2021, you may be wondering how it affects your company (and your employee handbook). Check out our quick and easy breakdown as you determine how to handle the latest public holiday in your small business. We’re reviewing: 

  • What and when is Juneteenth? 
  • Is Juneteenth a federal holiday?
  • How does it affect private employers? 
  • How to celebrate Juneteenth in the workplace

What and When is Juneteenth?

On June 17, 2021, President Biden made Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19, a legal public holiday. It is now the eleventh federal holiday, joining the ranks of New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Labor Day, and Christmas Day.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., specifically the date in 1865 when the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas, and enforced the Emancipation Proclamation two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued it. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, many slave owners had moved to Texas, where there were still 250,000 enslaved people. As the federal troops announced that all slaves were free, slave owners were forced to free everyone. 

Formerly enslaved African Americans first celebrated one year after their freedom on what they called “Jubilee Day.” Also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, the tradition was upheld as they moved to other parts of the country over the years. It is considered the longest-running African American holiday, and many celebrate Juneteenth with music, barbecues, prayer services, and other activities.

Is Juneteenth a Federal Holiday?

Yes, Juneteenth is now recognized as a federal holiday. Several states recognize it as a state legal holiday, while most honor it as a day of observance. It is also a bank holiday.

So, what does all of this mean for employers? Let’s start with a refresher of each type of holiday:

  • Federal holidays: Paid holidays for federal government employees, meaning all non-essential federal government agencies are closed. Essential federal employees usually receive a replacement day off to make up for the missed holiday. 
  • Bank holidays: Business days when financial institutions are closed. Most banks and financial institutions follow the federal holidays, although they do not have to.
  • State legal holidays: State workers get a paid day off to commemorate the holiday.
  • State ceremonial holidays: The state publicly recognizes and honors the day, but state employees don’t necessarily get a paid day off. 

Many states are still deciding whether to make Juneteenth a state holiday. Doing so typically encourages private companies to make it a paid holiday. 

When Juneteenth falls on a Sunday, federal employers must give employees the closest weekday off. In 2022, for example, federal employees were off on Monday, June 20. In some states that have made Juneteenth a legal holiday, state employees observed the holiday on Friday, June 17. 

How Does Juneteenth Affect Private Employers?

While private employers are not obligated to provide paid time off for federal holidays, you must keep up with your state’s requirements for state legal holidays. 

For example, Massachusetts retailers must pay employees a premium rate of their regular wage for working on state legal holidays like Juneteenth. Massachusetts employers also cannot force employees to work on Juneteenth. Check out our guide on Massachusetts Blue Laws to learn more. 

Because it is a bank holiday, if payday falls on or around Juneteenth, you may need to process payroll earlier to ensure employees get paid on time via direct deposit. While many online banks stay open during bank holidays, deposits won’t be transferred to your bank account.

Even if you are not subject to any state requirements regarding Juneteenth, you could follow the lead of major brands like Netflix, Nike, Target, Grubhub, and Twitter by offering employees a paid day off and/or time-and-a-half. In years where Juneteenth falls on a Sunday, you can choose to give employees the Friday before or Monday after as their paid day off.

Before enacting a policy, check your state laws about Juneteenth and other state holidays. 

3 Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth at Work

Give Employees a Paid Day Off

As mentioned above, private employers are not required to give employees the Juneteenth holiday off — but it could go a long way for morale purposes. And if your employee handbook states that your organization observes all federal holidays as paid holidays, you should automatically add Juneteenth to that list.

Offer Premium Pay or Floating Holiday

If you have certain departments or roles that must work on Juneteenth, consider offering them a premium pay rate like time and a half or a floating holiday. 

Whatever your leadership and HR teams decide, include Juneteenth in your holiday and PTO policies

Organize Educational and Racial Justice Activities

Although African Americans have been celebrating Juneteenth for generations, many are still unfamiliar with the history behind this holiday. Business and HR leaders can hold discussions, participate in racial justice activities, and bring in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts to facilitate these discussions and activities. 

This can be a powerful way to advance DEI initiatives, improve workplace culture, and bring your team together.

Observing the Juneteenth Holiday

If you’re a private employer wondering how to handle the Juneteenth holiday, you must determine if you will:

  • Recognize it only as an observed holiday (if so, it’s a great idea to open up that dialogue about Juneteenth’s history!).
  • Give employees a paid day off.
  • Offer holiday pay.
  • Host or participate in other racial justice initiatives.

Need a neutral professional HR expert to talk it through? BlueLion will be happy to discuss your plan and how to observe Juneteenth respectfully. We offer guidance and diversity training to help small businesses create welcoming, inclusive environments. Contact us today at 603-818-4131 or info@bluelionllc.com!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.