June 19, commonly referred to as Juneteenth, commemorates the date of the official end of legal slavery in the United States, June 19, 1865. Though Abraham Lincoln had declared the end of slavery in the Emancipation Proclamation over two years earlier, Juneteenth marks the date when the law was enforced in Texas, the last remaining slave state.
The celebration of Juneteenth, also referred to as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day, has a long history throughout the US. Currently, 47 states and the District of Columbia observe it in some form, though only a few treat it as a paid state holiday. Most recently, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has established Juneteenth as a paid state holiday going forward.
On June 19, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker declared Juneteenth a Massachusetts state holiday in an official proclamation. In his proclamation, the governor stated that “Juneteenth is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the goal of creating a more equal and just society, an effort that continues today.”
Following this proclamation, on July 24, the governor signed a bill formally designating Juneteenth Independence Day as an annual state holiday. This designation adds Juneteenth to a list of “partially restricted” holidays that are covered by the Blue Laws, Massachusetts laws that establish a general rule that most employers may not be open for business on Sundays and certain holidays.
This designation creates new obligations for many retail employers (those with more than seven employees), which are exempted from the Blue Laws as long as they provide their employees with premium pay for working on the holiday and do not force their employees to work on that day. Currently, that premium rate of pay is 1.3 times an employee’s regular rate. The holiday premium pay requirements for partially restricted holidays will be phased out between now and 2023. On January 1, 2021, premium pay for these holidays will drop to 1.2 times the normal hourly rate. On January 1, 2022, it will drop to 1.1 times the normal hourly rate. Finally, after January 1, 2023, premium pay for partially restricted holidays will be eliminated altogether. However, restrictions on requiring employees to work on these holidays will remain in effect.
Employers Next Steps
- Massachusetts employers should update their list of 2021 paid holidays to include Juneteenth Independence Day.
- Retail employers who choose to open on Juneteenth should ensure that employees are not being required to work if they do not wish to and that premium holiday pay is being provided to anyone who chooses to work on that day.
- If you are a Full-Service or Virtual HR client and would like our assistance with updating your handbook or holiday policies, please email us.
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