Is Juneteenth a Holiday? What Employers Need to Know

Whether you offer time off or need to process direct deposit, staying on top of legal holidays is a must. And when it comes to Juneteenth, you need to keep updated with the latest federal and state holiday status changes. So, is Juneteenth a holiday?

Get out your reading glasses. It’s time to talk about Juneteenth. 

What is Juneteenth, and when is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is an annual day of remembrance commemorating the emancipation of African Americans enslaved in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and announced that those enslaved were free. As a result, the holiday takes place on June 19. 

Also called Juneteenth National Independence Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, and Freedom Day, the day celebrates the end of slavery in America. 

Individuals, businesses, and governments honor the events of Juneteenth through gatherings, picnics, parades, and festivals.  

Is Juneteenth a holiday off from work?

As of June 17, 2021, Juneteenth is the twelfth federal legal holiday. A number of states also recognize it as a state legal holiday, and most states honor it as a day of observance. 

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution on June 15, 2021 to give Juneteenth the legal holiday status. And, the House overwhelmingly passed it on June 16, 2021. When the president signed it into law on June 17, Juneteenth joined the 11 other federal holidays, such as Christmas, the Fourth of July, and MLK Jr. Day. 

Federal organizations, like banks and schools, observe legal holidays by giving employees (and students) the day off. Private businesses are not required to give employees the day off for federal legal holidays. However, many do. Companies including Nike, Target, and Best Buy recognize Juneteenth by giving employees paid time off or time and a half (for those who work). 

Juneteenth and payroll: Juneteenth National Independence Day is a bank holiday. When payday falls on a bank holiday (or around), you must run payroll one business day earlier to pay employees on time. So if payday falls on or around Juneteenth, you may need to process payroll earlier for direct deposit.

What states recognize Juneteenth? 

Generally, states recognize federal legal holidays. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that state employees get a paid day off from work. Before we get into Juneteenth and state laws, let’s go over the two types of state recognition:

  1. State legal holiday: State workers get the day off
  2. Ceremonial holiday: The state publicly recognizes and commemorates the day

Every state recognizes Juneteenth as a ceremonial holiday. But how does state legal holiday recognition work?

State legal holiday

On a state legal holiday, the state commemorates the day by giving state workers (e.g., public employees) paid time off from work. 

This type of action typically inspires private businesses to give their employees the day off, too. An example of a state legal holiday includes New Year’s Day. 

A handful of states recognize Juneteenth as a state legal holiday with pay, including Illinois, Washington, and D.C.

Because Juneteenth is a federal legal holiday, more states may continue following suit in giving state employees a paid day off from work. Stay up-to-date with your state for more information.

Also, keep in mind that your state may set strict rules regarding private businesses and state legal holidays. For example, Massachusetts requires voluntariness of employment from employees before working on Juneteenth and other established state holidays.

Consult your state for more information on the do’s and don’ts of staying open on state legal holidays. 

How to celebrate Juneteenth in the workplace 

Want to celebrate Juneteenth in the workplace? You’re not alone. A number of businesses honor the holiday by giving employees paid time off, offering time and a half, and/or discussing and celebrating the day.

Celebrating Juneteenth in the workplace: give PTO, offer time and a half, discuss & celebrate

1. Give employees paid time off

Do you provide paid time off (PTO) to your employees on holidays? Now that Juneteenth is a legal holiday, it may be time to expand your list.

Remember to list Juneteenth in your employee handbook. Detail who’s eligible for PTO and what happens if the day falls on a weekend. 

2. Offer time and a half

Offering employees who work on Juneteenth time and a half pay can help you incentivize working and reward team members for working on a holiday. 

Generally, employers must provide time and a half to nonexempt employees who work hours over 40 in a workweek. Time and a half is 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate. But, some employers choose to offer time and a half (or another higher rate of pay) when employees work on holidays. 

Again, your state may have laws requiring higher pay to employees who work on holidays. 

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3. Discuss and celebrate Juneteenth 

If your business stays open on Juneteenth, there are a number of ways you can celebrate the holiday. 

So, how should you celebrate Juneteenth in the workplace? You can start by explaining what the day represents to employees who aren’t familiar with it. 

In fact, there are a number of Americans unfamiliar with the day. According to a Gallup survey:

  • 12% have a lot of knowledge 
  • 25% have some knowledge
  • 34% know a little about it
  • 28% know nothing at all

To discuss and celebrate Juneteenth, you can host a virtual or in-person meeting, complete with food and education.

This article has been updated from its original publication date of June 17, 2021.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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