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Juneteenth Established As A Federal Holiday: What Does It Mean For Private Schools?
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 private schools and other private employers? 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 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 private employer has agreed are days off for employees. 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 employer has decided to provide these holidays as celebrated off-work days.
Finally, there are additional holidays (some of which are federal holidays) that some, many, or most private employers 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 employer provides, for the holiday to be a day off from work, it requires an action by the employer to establish the day as such a holiday. This includes in an employee handbook, employment agreement, or for schools that have unionized labor, in a collective bargaining agreement.
That brings us to Juneteenth. The establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday does not mean that Juneteenth is a holiday at your school unless your school has already established that the creation of a new federal holiday is a holiday for some or all of your employees, as set forth in an employee handbook, agreement, or collective bargaining agreement for schools that have unionized labor.
If Juneteenth has not already been established at your school as a holiday to which employees would be entitled to a day off from work, your school can decide to implement a new practice of providing this holiday as time off from work for employees. This would require amending your policy on paid holidays in the employee handbook, and for schools that have unionized employees, it would require an agreement with the union, since adding Juneteenth as a holiday is a mandatory subject of bargaining over which you need to meet and confer.
If you have any questions about Juneteenth being established as a federal holiday, please reach out to an LCW attorney. We will be happy to help you.