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Client Advisory Regarding Juneteenth Holiday

By: Rebecca Goldberg

On June 16, 2021, President Biden signed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a federal public holiday.  This advisory explains what Connecticut employers need to know about Juneteenth and its observance.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.  On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas received word that they were free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.  (Slavery did continue for some after that date and only fully came to an end after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.)  Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by other names, including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day.  Juneteenth has been observed with prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, picnics, and festivals.

Is Juneteenth a holiday in Connecticut?

Connecticut has yet to formally recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.   In 2003, the General Assembly voted unanimously to require the governor to “proclaim the Saturday that is closest to June 19th of each year to be Juneteenth Independence Day in recognition of the formal emancipation of enslaved African Americans.”  However, Connecticut has stopped short of elevating Juneteenth to state holiday status.  Legislation was proposed in the most recent legislative session that would have made Juneteenth a state holiday, but the bill did not advance to a vote. 

What is the effect on a national and state level of the federal legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a federal public holiday?

This year, the federal holiday was declared just days before its observance, so government agencies had little time to shut down.  Some government offices were closed, while others remained open.  It can be expected that federal government agencies, such as the post office, will be closed in future years on the holiday.

C.G.S. § 1-4 lists Connecticut holidays and for now, does not list Juneteenth.  However, it does have a provision that states that any day appointed or recommended by the Governor of this state or the President of the United States as a day of thanksgiving, fasting or religious observance, shall each be a legal holiday. . . .”  Neither the state proclamation nor the federal law explicitly designates Juneteenth as a day of thanksgiving, fasting or religious observance.   

Therefore, at this time, there is no general legal obligation for non-federal public or private employers in Connecticut to treat the day as a legal holiday with respect to closures or holiday pay.  Unionized employers should consult their collective bargaining agreements to determine whether the designation as a federal holiday requires different treatment.  Likewise, municipal employers should consult their charters to determine whether there is a local requirement to treat the day as a holiday.

Will Connecticut schools be closed for Juneteenth?

At this time, there is no general requirement that Connecticut schools close for Juneteenth.  However, schools may choose to close either because they are subject to collective bargaining obligations that require closure due to the federal holiday or because the board of education opts to close in observance of the day.  If Juneteenth is added to the list of Connecticut holidays, either by legislation or by designation as a day of thanksgiving, fasting or religious observance, schools would be required under C.G.S. § 1-4 to close or “hold a suitable nonsectarian educational program in observance of such holiday.”

When is Juneteenth observed?

The federal holiday is on June 19th.  When it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, most federal employees would have Friday or Monday, respectively, treated as the holiday.  If Juneteenth is added to the list of Connecticut holidays in the future, it would be observed on June 19th or the nearest Friday or Monday if it falls on the weekend.  In 2022, June 19th falls on a Sunday.

Should Connecticut employers recognize Juneteenth with closures or programming if not required to do so?

This is up to each employer.  As with any employment decision, employers should consider the impact on employee morale, cost, and business operations resulting from a decision to close or not to close. 

Employers who choose to provide Juneteenth-related programming should ensure that their celebrations or educational materials are culturally sensitive.  People of color should be included in the process wherever possible.  Unfortunately, some recent corporate attempts to recognize Juneteenth have backfired and led to employees feeling stereotyped, resulting in employees criticizing management for poor decisions that could have been avoided with the input of people of color.Ultimately, at this juncture, the decision as to whether and how to recognize Juneteenth is at the discretion of each employer unless there is a requirement to observe the federal holiday found in a collective bargaining agreement or other source.