Reminder for Employers: Juneteenth is a Now a State Holiday in Massachusetts

Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

Employers: take note that Juneteenth is now an official state holiday in Massachusetts.

The June 19 holiday celebrates the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the former confederate states. The 1863 proclamation outlawed slavery in the United States, yet news of the law did not reach the South for some time. Union General Gordon Granger read the proclamation from the balcony of the former confederate army outpost in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, two months after the confederate surrender at Appomattox and nearly two years after the President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation. Massachusetts recognized the official celebration of Juneteenth in 2007 (the 24th state to do so at the time), during Governor Deval Patrick’s administration.

Last summer, Governor Charlie Baker signed a law (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 6, sec. 15BBBBB) to elevate Juneteenth to an official state holiday, joining at least four other states (including New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia) that include worker pay requirements for the holiday. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia now recognize Juneteenth as a holiday across the country.

With the designation of Juneteenth as a paid holiday for some workers in Massachusetts, employers should make a plan for staffing the workplace on June 19 (a little more than a month away).

Here’s what you need to know now:

Retailers

Massachusetts “Blue Laws” require retailers that open on certain holidays pay employees a premium rate for work performed on the holiday. In addition, no employee may be required to work on the holiday (work is paid but performed on a volunteer-only basis on applicable holidays). Executive, administrative and professional employees are exempt from these requirements.

The Premium Pay Rate: Juneteenth is a “partially restricted” holiday under the law, in the same classification as New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day (July Fourth) and Labor Day. Work performed after noon on Columbus Day (Indigenous Peoples Day in some cities and towns) and on Veterans Day also falls under the “partially restricted” category. In 2021, the applicable premium rate of pay for work on Juneteenth is 1.2 times the employee’s regular rate of pay. Note that, in 2018, the Legislature agreed to phase out premium rates of pay on holidays by 2023 in the “Grand Bargain” that provided for increased minimum wages and paid family and medical leave in the Commonwealth (in 2022, the applicable premium rate of pay will be 1.1 times the regular rate of pay).

Other businesses

The law does not require office and service businesses to close on Juneteenth or other similar “partially restricted” holidays. However, in 2020 a number of private Massachusetts businesses elected to provide employees with a paid day off for Juneteenth. These professional employers include a number of large law firms, tech firms and banks that chose to provide full, partial or floating days off for the 2020 celebration of the holiday. Many other employers have chosen to recognize the holiday with cultural and historical remembrances on or around June 19.

Planning note: Juneteenth falls on a Saturday in 2021, and most non-retail establishments will be closed on the official holiday (state law calls for holidays falling on a Saturday to be observed on a Saturday).

June 18 update: Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. In 2021 (this year), federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday, June 18. The City of Boston has declared Monday, June 21 as this year’s official day of observance for municipal employees. Private employers in need of further guidance are encouraged to seek legal counsel for assistance.

Michael Loconto is an attorney and consultant with Fenway Law, a Boston-based firm that can help your business think through key workforce operations planning. If you like what you read here, follow Mike on Medium and subscribe through Substack.

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