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Why You Should Offer Juneteenth as a Company Holiday [+ 8 Ways to Honor]

A guide for HR on the importance of honoring the Juneteenth holiday in the workplace.

May 31st, 2024

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In 2021, Congress voted to make Juneteenth (June 19) a federal holiday. But what does this holiday mean, and how can you recognize it in your workplace? 

To help HR and employers commemorate the holiday in the workplace (whether you're remote or in-person), we created this guide to help you understand the history of the newest federal U.S. holiday and the importance of honoring it at your organization.

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What is Juneteenth?

Despite the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 that formally freed enslaved people, about 250,000 people continued to remain enslaved two years later in Texas—one of the most isolated slave states. On June 19, 1865, Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the federal orders that all enslaved people were free.

June 19th, formally named Juneteenth, became an official state holiday in Texas on January 1, 1980, and was proclaimed a federal holiday on June 16, 2021—making it the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was proclaimed a holiday in 1983.

Reasons to Offer Juneteenth as a Company Holiday

So, why is Juneteenth important to HR professionals and their employers?

In short, it's a holiday that should be focused on education and reflection, an essential part of HR’s role. There are no laws dictating which holidays, if any, you have to give your employees, but the company holidays you celebrate are a statement about what you value. Looking at the holidays you provide through a new lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion can reaffirm your company values and allow you to demonstrate a willingness to evolve and learn.

As HR professionals, we must constantly seek to make improvements. Consider adding Juneteenth to your calendar this year to give people the time to reflect on how your company and employees can do better for the Black community (as well as other marginalized groups). Changing or even adding celebrations can give you an annual reminder of the continued work that needs to be done.

30%

A study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans indicates that 30% of private employers offer employees Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

How Your Company Can Recognize and Honor Juneteenth

From education to action, there are many ways that businesses and employees can recognize Juneteenth. Here are just a few ways:

  1. Offer PTO for observance: Whether people use their time off for volunteering, educating themselves more about the holiday, celebration, or rest, offering PTO is one of the most significant ways to recognize the holiday.

  2. Volunteer at local events: Juneteenth itself or one of the other days in that week can be an excellent time for team volunteering. Even if you're a hybrid or remote workplace, companies can recognize the holiday through donations or similar charitable acts and contributions.

  3. Self-educate: The National Museum of African-American History & Culture offers more detailed reading and resources about the history of Juneteenth and its importance, along with a digital toolkit to help you celebrate and educate.

  4. Attend virtual events: There are many virtual events, including demonstrations, virtual tours, presentations, and more, that take place during the week of Juneteenth. Make sure to share these opportunities with employees and give them the time they need to attend, even during work hours.

  5. Expand DEI efforts: Consider using this time for reflection to understand the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities in the company. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts fall short when they feel like one-day isolated events in an environment that lacks inclusion any other day of the week. Take some time to establish or review your company’s DEI policy and plan ongoing education throughout the year.

  6. Invite speakers: Activists, historians, and authors who are experts in civil rights, racial justice, and reform are just a few examples of people who can be invited as speakers. The local library may be another resource - they can often share materials, host workshops, and any other services around the holiday.

  7. Show films: "The Look" is a film from Proctor & Gamble about racial bias, and there are even supporting materials to help the movie become a point of discussion and learning in the workplace.

  8. Identify growth opportunities: DEI is an ongoing and continual improvement effort that goes far beyond one day. How can you connect this holiday to broader organizational efforts? How can you continue to learn and grow? Consider having an open discussion or roundtable around these topics.

Final Thoughts

Recognizing Juneteenth in the workplace isn't just about offering a day off; it’s about fostering education, reflection, and action toward racial equity. By implementing some of these suggestions, your company can demonstrate its commitment to creating a more inclusive environment for all employees. This journey towards true inclusion requires continuous effort, and Juneteenth serves as a powerful starting point for growth and positive change in your organization.

FAQs

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of slavery in the United States. It's a day to celebrate freedom, reflect on racial progress, and recommit to equal rights.

Yes, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in 2021, making it the 12th federal holiday. However, individual companies decide whether to observe it as a paid day off.

Juneteenth is a paid federal holiday for government employees, but it is up to individual companies to decide if they offer Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

To encourage leaders to observe Juneteenth as a company holiday, discuss the importance of Juneteenth with your manager or HR leaders. Share informational resources about the holiday's significance and ways your company can observe and honor it.

There are many resources available online about Juneteenth history and events:

Updated 5/31/2024

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