Upcoming Juneteenth Holiday Means Retail Employers cannot Require Work, must Pay Premium Wages

As the newest of the nation’s holidays approaches this coming Sunday, to be recognized in Massachusetts on Monday, June 20, employers in retail businesses need to be sure they are on top of the state’s legal requirements for Juneteenth. Much like New Year’s Day, Independence Day, and Sundays, among others, the law prohibits retailers from requiring their employees to work. For those who do appear, employers of seven or more employees must pay what is now a small premium – 1.1 times the workers’ regular rate of pay.

The premium is now so low because it’s being phased out. In fact, 2022 is the last year in which premium pay of any kind will be required on restricted holidays such as Juneteenth, and as of January 1, 2023 the rule will be no more. Other restrictions will still apply, however, and retailers may in some cases be forced to pay premiums voluntarily in order to have sufficient numbers of workers. Employers may not, of course, punish an employee because he/she refuses to work on a restricted holiday like Juneteenth. Under Massachusetts law, a retailer is generally any entity that sells products to the public, such as department stores, grocers and the like.

Though the Juneteenth holiday is new in both Massachusetts and at the federal level – it became law here in 2020 was applied to federal employees in 2021 – the concept is not a new one. Juneteenth represents the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas learned that President Lincoln had freed them two years prior, via the emancipation proclamation. It has been celebrated ever since with prayers and spirituals, and became law in Texas in 1980. Juneteenth is also celebrated in other countries.