More employers add Juneteenth as a paid holiday this year

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The number of private employers offering Juneteenth as a paid holiday for their employees has jumped significantly over the last two years, with nearly one in three private employers now giving their employees the day off in recognition of its historical significance.

Early results from a study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans, a nonpartisan group that counts more than 8,200 organizations and 32,000 individuals as members, indicate that 30% of private employers report that they are offering Juneteenth as a paid holiday. This is in addition to the federal employers already providing Juneteenth as a paid holiday to employees. (Full results from the IFEBP study are not yet available.)

That’s up from the 8% of private employers who reported offering Juneteenth as a paid holiday in 2020. (At that time, another 17% said they were considering adding it.) Among those organizations that offered the day as a paid holiday in 2020, the majority (96%) were offering it for the first time. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas. It’s viewed as the day slavery ended in the United States.

Julie Stich, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans
Julie Stich, IFEBP

The uptick in employers adding the day as a paid holiday comes as more organizations continue to reexamine their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives—a phenomenon spurred in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent calls for social justice, says Julie Stich, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

“Recognizing Juneteenth, the day that commemorates when the last enslaved people in the U.S. received news of their freedom under law, is one way employers can recognize their employees who have shared that history,” Stich says.

The University of Phoenix, the large online university, is one of the employers recognizing Juneteenth as a paid company holiday for the first time this year and will observe the holiday on Monday, June 20. Cheryl Naumann, the school’s chief human resources officer, says “making Juneteenth a permanent holiday creates space and time for reflection, honoring individual experiences, and always considering what more we can do.”

Consulting giant KPMG also is giving its employees the day off for Juneteenth for the first time this year. The firm also is hosting various special online events, including one about advancing Black employees’ careers.

A handful of firms last year added Juneteenth as a company holiday, including Best Buy, National Grid and The Hartford. At that time, many company leaders—including many who offered it for the first time—said observing Juneteenth as a holiday provides important recognition of systemic racism and a chance for employees to reflect. 

Momentum for Juneteenth as a company holiday also increases with the day now being a federal holiday. President Biden signed Juneteenth into a federal holiday last year, and in the last few months, some cities have followed as well. New York and Los Angeles both designated Juneteenth as paid city holidays.

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In addition to recognizing Juneteenth as a company holiday, some leaders say employers and company leaders should incorporate other DEI components in recognition of Juneteenth and encourage employees to participate. Last year, for instance, The Hartford offered webinars and events for employees to share their perspectives on the day and learn how to advance social equity. The company also encourages its workers to volunteer for organizations that support racial equity and support Black-owned businesses, says Susan Johnson, the company’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer.

Including Juneteenth as a company holiday “serves as a day for employees to pause, recognize our progress and reflect on what more we can do to address social inequities and create a more just, fair and equitable world,” Johnson told HRE last year.

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.