Recognizing Juneteenth and Strengthening Company Culture: Tips for Employers

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Several prominent companies across the nation recently announced that they would observe Juneteenth as a holiday. This new trend of observing Juneteenth comes in the wake of several weeks of protests across the world advocating for an end to racial injustice and police brutality. These protests have generated discourse across the country, including in workplaces, about systemic racism and what actions we all can take to address the issues. Although Juneteenth is not a new holiday, recognizing and observing the holiday is one of many proactive measures that employers can take to demonstrate their commitment to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces and to promoting racial justice.

What Is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of legal slavery in the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, the news did not reach enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865, where it was met with shock and jubilation.

The newly-freed people in Galveston celebrated after the announcement, and the following year, freedmen and freedwomen organized the first of what became the annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19 in Texas. Over time, the annual celebration spread from the Black community in Texas to the rest of the United States. Juneteenth celebrations focus on education, history, self-improvement, culture, and pride.

Who Is Observing Juneteenth?

Many companies have announced they will make Juneteenth an annual corporate holiday. The decision to observe Juneteenth in the workplace comes as more employers voice their support for racial justice. Other companies have also announced donations to organizations promoting racial justice.

How Can Employers Observe the Holiday?

Give employees a paid day off.

Consider observing Juneteenth as a company holiday and giving employees a paid day off as the company would for other observed holidays. This can help remind employees that the employer believes that the history of all its employees matters and that it is taking an active stand to promote racial justice.

If closing to observe Juneteenth is not a viable option for a company, they may want to consider alternatives. For example, some companies plan to remain open and give full-time non-exempt workers the option of taking the day off with full pay or working the day with time-and-one-half pay.

Honor Juneteenth in the workplace.

Recognizing Juneteenth in the workplace can strengthen a company’s commitments to its mission, vision, and values to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace and to foster social and racial justice.

There are many ways that employers can commemorate Juneteeth in the workplace:

  • Invite guest speakers to the workplace to speak on current issues;
  • Sponsor relevant workplace activities (on-duty and off-duty); or
  • Engage in the same kinds of activities that the company engages in for other commemorations for people of color.

Participate in local Juneteenth events.

Many communities across the country host Juneteenth celebrations. These events include parades, rodeos, cookouts, live concerts, and community outdoor activities. Consider hosting a company-sponsored booth or contest in these community events.

Is Juneteenth an Observed Holiday?

Juneteenth is an observed holiday in 47 states and the District of Columbia, but it is not a mandated federal holiday. Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980. A more comprehensive history of Juneteenth can be found here.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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