How To Recognize the Juneteenth Holiday as Part of DEIB Initiatives
Two years ago, President Joe Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, designating Juneteenth as the eleventh federally recognized public holiday. While the bill did not impose any requirements on private employers, employers should be aware of this national holiday and consider how to best recognize the Juneteenth holiday in the workplace.
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, it was not until 1865 that Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed in Galveston, Texas, and delivered the news that the Civil War had indeed ended.
How Can Employers Observe the Holiday?
Recognizing Juneteenth can be part of a company’s broader Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) initiatives and demonstrate a commitment to its values. Many larger employers, such as Target, Starbucks and Nike, have offered the day as a paid holiday and/or have paid holiday pay to those who work the day. In addition to recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday, employers may also use the holiday as a time to educate and celebrate.
If closing to observe Juneteenth is not a viable option for your organization, employers may want to consider alternative ways to celebrate the holiday, such as:
- Having an internal celebration that provides educational opportunities, such as guest speakers who are invited into the workplace to speak on current issues;
- Providing resources to those who want to be allies or otherwise demonstrate support for social justice issues, but do not know how;
- Organizing volunteer outings that are connected to racial and social justice;
- Sponsoring employee visits to local African American history museums; and/or
- Taking the opportunity to examine and discuss with employees the employer’s internal DEIB initiatives.
The recognition of Juneteenth as a company-recognized holiday can go a long way to demonstrate awareness and support for employees’ varied experiences, particularly those of African American employees. While observing Juneteenth does not substitute for conducting ongoing evaluations of hiring, promotion, evaluation, training, compensation, and other systems and processes that DEIB initiatives are intended to address, it can and should be part of a broader DEIB initiative.
Employers should consult with experienced human resources professionals and/or labor and employment counsel when in doubt about the appropriate course of action regarding DEIB initiatives. For all MEA Members, the Hotline is available to provide this assistance. For MEA Essential and Premier Members, a Member Legal Services attorney also is available.
About the Author
Amy McAndrew is MEA’s Director of Legal and Compliance Services and has over twenty years of experience as a labor and employment attorney.