Skip to main content

Celebrating Juneteenth

By Sonal Shah, JD, Assistant Director, Employment Law Services
Published June 11, 2024

uneteenth Independence Day graphic with silhouette of womans face, red, yellow and green accents and callout "40% of private employers made Juneteenth a paid holiday in 2023".

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. More specifically, it is the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when word finally reached enslaved individuals in Texas that they were free. Although this was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Civil War ended, there were still approximately 250,000 enslaved people in Texas at the time. One year after they received their freedom, these previously enslaved individuals celebrated with what they called Jubilee Day. As they started moving into other parts of the country, they kept up the tradition every June 19. Many Americans have been largely unaware of this holiday, until recently. For example, the federal government only recognized Juneteenth as an official holiday in 2021. 

While private employers aren't legally required to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or provide employees the day off, many have started doing so. According to a recent survey, approximately 40% of private employers made Juneteenth a paid holiday in 2023, up from 9% in 2021. 

Of course, a day off is not the only way to celebrate Juneteenth. There are many other ways employers can honor and celebrate in a way that acknowledges the holiday’s history, traditions, and impact. Examples include:

  • Floating holiday: Allow employees to use a floating holiday to acknowledge the day.
  • Host a picnic: Provide traditional Juneteenth foods, play live or recorded music (there are Juneteenth playlists available online), and consider including dancing and singing as part of your celebration.
  • Trivia Game: Gather accurate information about Juneteenth and turn it into an educational and fun trivia game. You can even use online apps such as Kahoot! to set up the game. Consider including prizes to get employees more engaged.
  • Lunch and learn: Educate employees about the holiday (for example telling the story of Juneteenth, including why it's celebrated on June 19 and why it's significant today) and encourage open discussion about the topic.
  • DEIB training: Have an expert provide training on topics such as racism and/or diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).
  • Share resources: Provide a list of resources such as books, podcasts, and blogs that discuss Juneteenth and related topics (such as race discrimination).
  • Book Club: Have a workplace book club that discusses a book related to Juneteenth or related topics.
  • Show films: Use films to start discussions about Juneteenth and related topics.
  • Recommit to DEIB: Connect the holiday to broader organizational efforts and consider how to continue learning and improving efforts related to DEIB.

We encourage our members to use these ideas as a starting point to honor and acknowledge this important holiday and continue efforts towards becoming more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. Doing so not only helps us all continue to grow, evolve, and become better citizens, but also sends a strong message to your employees and clients about what your organization values. 

What plans do you have to recognize and celebrate Juneteenth in your organization? Let’s share some ideas for the benefit of all HR Source members! Head to the All Members Community on HR Exchange.