Companies embracing Juneteenth as paid holiday

A handful of employers are adding Juneteenth as an official paid company holiday as racial injustice protests take place across the nation.

JCPenney, Levi Strauss & Co., Namely, Nike, Postmates and Twitter are among the growing number of employers that are giving employees the day off on June 19—the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Company leaders say noting the day as a holiday—most for the first time—is important recognition for systemic racism and a chance for employees to reflect.

“As part of the much-needed reckoning with racial injustice in our country, it’s extremely important for us to give due recognition to one of the most meaningful and historically significant dates in America’s history,” says Tracy Layney, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Levi Strauss & Co. “For us, making Juneteenth an annual company holiday is a way we can offer our employees a chance to reflect on the systemic racism againxst Black Americans and more importantly, what we can do about it.”

Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, who announced Juneteenth will be a paid holiday for employees at both companies, wrote on Twitter that it will be a “day for celebration, education and connection.” He said the holiday will be honored every year moving forward.

Other companies say they will observe the day in other ways. Target, for example, says that while stores will remain open, hourly team members who work that day will receive time and a half. Eligible Target employees have the option to take the day off with full pay, and the corporate headquarters will be closed in observance.

“We recognize that the racial trauma the country is experiencing now is not new, but throughout recent weeks there has been a sense that this time is, and has to be, different,” Target CEO Brian Cornell said in a statement.

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Meanwhile, Fifth Third Bank will close offices at 2 p.m. local time Friday, and Google told employees to cancel unnecessary meetings in recognition of the day.

Julie Stich, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, says that beyond “standard” holidays like Thanksgiving, Independence Day and Labor Day, a company’s paid holidays “reflect their culture, perspective and priorities.”

“This year, with attention turned to racial justice, a company may choose to designate Juneteenth as a paid holiday,” she says. “In doing so, they are demonstrating that they see the importance of diversity and inclusion to their culture and workplace—and it may spark the opportunity for a meaningful conversation.”

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Also, Stich says, many employers provide paid time off banks, so employees can take time off as they see fit. “Some companies provide one or more paid floating holidays, allowing employees to take off a day that has religious or cultural meaning for them.”

The move to celebrate Juneteenth comes as a growing number of companies are reexamining their corporate strategies and calling for action in the wake of George Floyd’s death, related protests and nationwide social unrest. Levi’s, for instance, says making Juneteenth a holiday is just one step the company is taking. The apparel company also is running a 2:1 employee match campaign for employees to double their donations to racial justice organizations and is conducting an analysis of their pay equity.

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Companies are being encouraged to take a stand, have open and honest conversations about race, conduct analyses on pay and more.

“We can’t control what’s going on outside of our organizations,” Jacqui Robertson, global head of talent, diversity and inclusion at investment bank William Blair, said recently during an i4cp call about diversity and inclusion efforts. “But we can certainly help our leaders inside our organizations today support, lean in [and] engage in the right conversations with employees.”

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