The following article was first posted on Berchem Moses PC's Labor and Employment Law Journal. It is reposted here with permission.
Juneteenth is slated to become a state holiday in Connecticut starting in 2023.
Gov. Ned Lamont signed Public Act 22-128 into law May 27, 2022.
Although prior efforts had failed, the General Assembly passed legislation this year elevating June 19 from a commemorative day to a state holiday.
Support was nearly unanimous, with the bill passing the House by a vote of 148-1 and in the Senate by a 30-1.
Juneteenth became a federal holiday on June 16, 2021 under President Joe Biden.
Moving forward in Connecticut, Juneteenth will be observed on June 19 or the nearest Friday or Monday if it falls on the weekend.
As a state holiday, schools are required by state law either to close or to “hold a suitable nonsectarian educational program in observance of [the] holiday.”
Banks and credit unions in the state will close as well.
There is no general legal obligation for other employers in Connecticut to close or provide holiday pay; however, employers should consult their handbooks to determine whether they enumerate specific holidays for closure/premium pay or whether they refer to state holidays.
In the latter case, Juneteenth would now be added to such a list.
Municipal employers should also consult their charters to determine whether the designation of Juneteenth as a state holiday results in any specified operational impact.
Unionized employers should consult their collective bargaining agreements to determine whether the designation as a state holiday requires different treatment.
If not, such employers should be prepared for the issue to reach the bargaining table.
Ultimately, 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 holiday found in a collective bargaining agreement or other source of law.
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.
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 holiday found in a collective bargaining agreement or other source.
About the author: Rebecca Goldberg is an associate with Berchem Moses PC, focusing on labor and employment matters in state and federal courts, and administrative agencies.