Juneteenth Established as a Federal Holiday: What Does it Mean for Cities, Counties, and Special Districts? Do you have to Close?

CATEGORY: Special Bulletins
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers
AUTHOR: Peter J. Brown
PUBLICATION: LCW Special Bulletin
DATE: Jun 18, 2021

On Thursday June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation to make Juneteenth (June 19) a federal holiday.  A federal holiday generally means that non-essential federal government offices and services, such as the United States Postal Service, are closed. Every federal government employee is also paid for the holiday.  What does the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday mean for cities, counties and special districts?  Do you have to close?  It depends.

A holiday is generally a commemoration of an event, or of a person or persons.  We typically think of holidays as days when employees are off from work, but there are many holidays (including many religious holidays), for which public employees do not receive a day off from work.  A segment of your employees may want to celebrate such holidays because of their significance to those employees, but to do so would require that they use accrued leaves.

Then, there are those holidays to which virtually every public agency has agreed are days off for employees (with the exception of those employees whose job requires staffing 24 hours a day).  These holidays include, for example, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving.  Although these are all examples of federal holidays as well, that they are holidays for which employees get the day off from work is because the agency itself or through collective bargaining agreements with their labor organizations, provides that these holidays are celebrated as off-work days.

Finally, there are additional holidays (some of which are federal holidays) that some, many or most agencies provide as days off for their employees.  Examples of these holidays include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Veterans Day, the Day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve.  With these holidays, like the holidays that virtually every agency provides, for the holiday to be a day off from work, it requires an action by the agency to establish the day as such a holiday.  This includes an agreement with labor associations for your represented employees.

That brings us to Juneteenth.  The establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday does not mean that Juneteenth is a holiday at your agency unless your agency has already established that the creation of a new federal holiday is a holiday for some or all of your employees.   What you need to check is the following:

Does your agency have a provision in a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), Personnel Rules, Municipal Code or other document setting forth terms and conditions of employment specifically stating either that the agency will provide all federal holidays to its employees, or that the agency will provide all newly declared/established federal holidays to its employees, or any similar language?   In this case, the agency would need to comply with that provision and provide Juneteenth as a holiday to those employees to whom the provision applied.

If Juneteenth has not already been established at your agency as a holiday to which employees would be entitled to a day off from work, it would require formal action to do so.  For example, it would require an agreement with your employee associations for represented employees or an action of your legislative body for unrepresented employees.  This means that for represented employees, adding Juneteenth as a holiday is a mandatory subject of bargaining over which you need to meet and confer.

If you have any other questions about Juneteenth being established as a federal holiday, please reach out to one of our attorneys.  We will be happy to help you.

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