Emory Healthcare to observe Juneteenth as paid holiday; nixes Christmas EveEmory Hospital bridge, April 19, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.
By Zac Summers, Atlanta News First
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) — An announcement over changes to paid observed holidays at Emory Healthcare is leading to controversy.
Employees, who spoke to Atlanta News First on the condition of anonymity, said what should have been an exciting announcement is in fact one of disappointment. On Thursday, CEO Dr. Joon Lee notified employees that Juneteenth will be a paid holiday starting next year. However, employees will no longer receive holiday pay for Christmas Eve.
“I think, in general, everyone at Emory is pretty frustrated right now,” said one Emory healthcare provider. “You can’t replace one for the other. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s essentially pitting a Christian holiday against something that’s to be celebratory for everyone – but specifically for our Black colleagues.”
The health system explained leadership came to the decision after listening to feedback from employees. The hope is that recognizing the holiday, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, will allow “more opportunities for celebration, reflection, and education.”
“Something that should be an extremely joyful and collective celebration has become another reminder of how our Black colleagues can’t have anything without sacrifice,” said an employee. “This is not what we have been pushing for. We thought Juneteenth was being added to the holiday calendar.”
“I don’t understand, why they can’t do both,” asked NAACP DeKalb County President Edwina Clanton.
Clanton believes companies should recognize Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday in 2021. However, she said the move by Emory could be more harmful than good – at least initially
“I’m sure it will put anger in some hearts,” Clanton added. “Why do we have to do this? Why can’t we have our old holidays off? Some more consideration, even asking the employees which days you want to give up, that may have worked better.”
In the memo, Dr. Lee explained that Emory Healthcare currently observes nine paid holidays each year, “while other Atlanta health systems average six paid holidays.” He wrote that leadership did not want to add another day.
“For each observed holiday, our clinics and business offices close, which means our patients are unable to make clinic appointments for those days,” he said. “To minimize the impact on patient care, we will not be adding another paid holiday to our calendar.”
Emory Healthcare, which will still observe Christmas Eve 2023, declined our request for an interview with Dr. Lee or others who were part of the decision. However, a spokesperson sent the following statement:
“In response to requests from our care team members over the past few years, we are pleased to add Juneteenth to the holidays we recognize. At Emory Healthcare, we strive to support our employees and our diverse communities in recognizing holidays that are meaningful and important to them. Christmas has been, and will remain, a recognized holiday. However, beginning in 2024, we will remove Christmas Eve as a recognized holiday and replace it with Juneteenth. We are committed to providing our patients as much access to care as possible and always consider this factor in decisions regarding holidays.”
The health system said employees still have the option to use paid time off (PTO) for Christmas Eve.
Decaturish media partner Atlanta News First provided this story.