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Editor’s Note: President Joe Biden signed a bill into law on Thursday declaring Juneteenth an official federal holiday, which makes it the United States' 11th federal holiday.
Despite its historical significance, most organizations in the United States did not formally recognize Juneteenth as a paid company holiday until last year. Sparked by an increased awareness of racial injustice, including the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, several prominent companies made the decision to recognize Juneteenth (June 19) as a permanent paid holiday.
Juneteenth — also called Emancipation Day — is celebrated in communities across the country in the same spirit as the Fourth of July but has often been overlooked outside the Black community. After the end of the Civil War in April 1865 and two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a number of people remained enslaved in the U.S.
It was on June 19, 1865 when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and read the statement, “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” which finally meant freedom for those still enslaved in Texas. Thus, Juneteenth marks the effective and official end of slavery in the U.S.
Organizations such as Target, Google, Lyft, JCPenny, Twitter, Nike, Vox Media, the National Football League, The New York Times and Postmates publicly announced they would begin recognizing Juneteenth as a paid company holiday. Eric Eve, CEO and founder of Black-owned consulting firm Ichor Strategies, said for those organizations and others that followed suit, it’s important to channel that same energy into building their respective DEI programs.
“They were able to both affirm their employees’ culture and provide time to reflect, recharge and acknowledge racism during a fraught time,” Eve said. “As they continue to evaluate the potential and impact of their DEI programs, companies should continue to employ the strategies that led to their recognition of Juneteenth: ensuring they actively listen to their employees and communities so they can create beneficial policies, address the problems rather than the symptoms and continually reflect on their policies to ensure they address the right pain points.”
While more organizations have no doubt added Juneteenth to their holiday calendar this year, it’s still far from widespread adoption. A survey of 400 employers by Mercer found that about 10% are offering Juneteenth as a paid holiday this year. Additionally, a LinkedIn poll by WorldatWork found that (as of Wednesday morning) 24% of the 277 respondents reported their organization is offering Juneteenth as a paid holiday.
Organizations that choose to offer Juneteenth — which falls on a Saturday this year, making Friday, June 18 the day these organizations would have holiday closures — as a paid holiday are providing tangible evidence about their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
“Observation of Juneteenth is a fast and highly visible way for employers of all sizes to demonstrate their commitment to social justice,” said Rich Fuerstenberg, senior partner, health at Mercer.
“However, we recommend that employers who offer Juneteenth as a fixed holiday do so in the context of a broader strategy to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their workforce. Observing Juneteenth is an important part of that strategy but it is not the entire strategy and it certainly is not the end of employer efforts.”
While it makes sense to add Juneteenth to the holiday calendar, some companies might still be reluctant to do so for a variety of reasons, Fuerstenberg said. Many employers are reluctant to increase their overall allotment of fixed holidays because additional paid time off leads to higher employer costs. Some organizations also have “float days” built in to their PTO package, which provides employees the flexibility to celebrate holidays that might not be on the company’s holiday calendar.
It be interesting to see whether more companies add Juneteenth as a paid holiday in the coming years, Fuerstenberg said, adding that many large organizations are broadening their PTO packages to allow for maximum flexibility.
“Part of the rationale behind that approach is that as the workforce has become more diverse, the importance of specific holidays — both religious and secular — can vary greatly,” he said. “Rather than observing a specific fixed holiday, a flexible paid time off strategy can also address diversity by enabling each employee to observe specific dates that are of greatest relevance to them.”
For those organizations that aren’t observing Juneteenth as a paid holiday, there are other ways to show support to their Black employees and demonstrate their commitment to racial equality. As Fuerstenberg noted, providing additional float days allows these employees the flexibility to take the day off. Angela Berg, global diversity and inclusion consulting leader at Mercer, said some organizations have designated Juneteenth as a community service day and have arranged meaningful activities for their employees to give back locally to support Black members of the community.
“Another option is to sponsor internal events, such as learning campaigns, to help educate employees about Juneteenth and the broader impacts it represents in our society and our workplaces,” Berg said.
“Regardless of which approach an organization takes, it’s also valuable to clearly and transparently communicate the decision to employees to ensure that the intent is well understood. And for those employers who opt for an alternative approach to Juneteenth, be sure to make an effort to get the entire organization engaged in the activity to drive true inclusion.”
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.