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Juneteenth: 5 ways employers can recognize the newest national holiday

On June 17, 2021, U.S. President Biden signed new legislation officially recognizing June 19 — or Juneteenth — as a U.S. federal holiday. According to Biden, “by making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history — and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come and the distance we have to travel.”

Juneteenth

The move is a substantive step forward but poses a challenge for companies: With the holiday written into law a mere two days before its inaugural instance, giving staff a sudden day off is fraught with logistical challenges. How do businesses recognize Juneteenth in a way that shows substantive support both now and in the future?

What is Juneteenth?

A portmanteau of the words “June” and “Nineteenth”, Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the abolishment of slavery in the state under President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Also called Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth is regularly celebrated across the United States but until Biden’s announcement was only a paid holiday in eight states including Massachusetts, New York, and Washington.

Five ways for employers to offer substantive support

While it’s important for employers to recognize the newest federal holiday, it’s also critical to strike the right tone considering the day’s historical significance and gravitas. Striking the right balance between celebratory and serious is essential.

With that in mind, here are five ways for employers to effectively show their support:

1. Offer paid time off

While employers aren’t obligated to offer time off — or holiday premium pay if staff work on federal holidays — this is the gold standard of support. If this isn’t logistically possible given the short time between the presidential announcement and the holiday itself, consider adding an extra day’s paid leave to staff accounts for them to use later this year, and subsequently recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday every year thereafter.

This is the approach taken by Workable. According to a recent email from CEO Nikos Moraitakis to US-based employees, “Workable will honor Juneteenth in 2021 by adding 1 bonus day to employee time-off balances. Going forward, Juneteenth will be observed following the federal holiday calendar.”

2. Create corporate events

Another way to show support for Juneteenth is by creating corporate events. These could include in-person information sessions or digital webcasts featuring guest speakers and experts who can help explain the history of Juneteenth, why it matters and how it relates to other U.S. holidays such as the Fourth of July. Here, your best bet is creating a healthy mix of fun events that celebrate the impact of Juneteenth while also paying respect to its more painful legacy.

3. Invest in worthy causes

Investment in causes such as fundraisers, charity drives or memorial races can also highlight the impact of Juneteenth and help corporate team-building efforts. If your company takes this approach, two components are critical: Finding the right cause and ensuring staff buy-in.

Before spending on any support effort, do your research so you understand the backstory of the event, are confident in where donations are going, and are clear about the expectations. Once you find the right cause, encourage staff participation by making it a full-day event during the regular work week that’s focused on both social recognition and socializing, rather than asking staff to show up on their own time.

4. Connect with black-owned businesses

Money talks. And with a host of black-owned businesses operating in every state and city across the United States, companies can show their support for Juneteenth by supporting black businesses owners that are instrumental in their communities.

While it doesn’t matter what product or service your company chooses to support, it does matter that this is an ongoing relationship — if you’re only supporting these businesses in June, expect some backlash.

5. Share staff stories

You can also recognize the new federal holiday by highlighting the stories of your own employees and what Juneteenth means to them. Sharing these stories (with permission) across both internal networks and external social media accounts can serve to showcase your support — but must be done with caution. While posting on social media is quick, easy and offers substantive reach, this approach will appear self-serving unless it’s paired with more substantive support efforts.

Ready to show your support for Juneteenth? Just remember the three Rs — relevant, responsible and respectful — and you’re on the right track to highlight this new federal holiday.

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