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Juneteenth Now a Federal Holiday: How it Affects Your Company

June 22, 2021

On June 17, President Biden signed into law legislation recognizing Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19, as a legal public holiday.  Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S. and commemorates the date in 1865 when the Union army arrived in Galveston, TX, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation two years after issuance.  The new law deems Juneteenth the eleventh “federal holiday” in the nation.

The law does not directly impose any obligations on private employers.  Rather, the law governs the obligations of the federal government to its own employees.  No federal wage-and-hour statute requires purely private employers to give employees time off or premium pay on holidays, and only two state laws do (Massachusetts and Rhode Island).  Government contractors, however, may be required to provide paid holidays recognize holidays pursuant to prevailing wage laws or their contracts (including subcontracts to government contracts).

Some private employers have adopted federal holidays as paid holidays for time off or pay purposes on a voluntary basis.  If a company’s employee handbook states that the company observes all federal holidays as a paid holiday, for example, then the company should treat Juneteenth as it treats previously existing federal holidays.  A company may also have adopted federal holidays by virtue of a collective bargaining agreement.

Even companies that are not obligated to observe federal holidays or that do not recognize all federal holidays on a blanket basis might find it worthwhile to recognize Juneteenth.  Giving employees paid time off or premium pay for time worked, or observing the holiday with racial justice activities, could help a company advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) objectives. 

AGC’s Culture of CARE program offers contractors resources for making their workplaces welcoming, safe, and inclusive for all.

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