Emory Healthcare, the largest health system in Georgia, has decided to scrap Christmas Eve from its paid holiday calendar and replace it with Juneteenth.
The move, announced on August 31, came after employees were asked to weigh in on the healthcare provider’s holiday schedule. Employees will now have to use paid time off to celebrate the December holiday and will also have the opportunity to earn extra holiday pay for working on Juneteenth.
“We hope this will allow more opportunities for celebration, reflection, and education,” Emory Healthcare CEO Joon Sup Lee wrote in an email to employees. Emory Healthcare, which cares for millions through its hospitals and clinics, is focused on creating an environment of true belonging for its patients and team members, he added.
Not everyone is pleased with the change. Hospital employees have complained that it pits Christian and African-American holidays against each other. Edwina Clanton, the president of the NAACP chapter in the county of the healthcare provider, spoke out against the move.
“I’m sure it will put anger in some hearts,” Clanton said. “Why do we have to do this?”
The new schedule could also leave the hospital short-staffed during one of the deadliest times of the year. Juneteenth weekends have historically seen a rise in gun violence and mass shootings, with 13 people killed in a single weekend in Chicago earlier this year.
Despite a handful of objections, Emory Healthcare is standing firm in its decision. On record, the healthcare provider has stated that its focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion was the driving factor behind dropping Christmas Eve.
The move by Emory Healthcare is sure to spur a broader debate surrounding holiday pay and what days are considered official holidays. It’s also possible that other employers in Georgia and around the country will follow suit.
What is certain is that Emory Healthcare has sent a message to its employees and the public—that Juneteenth is an important holiday and is deserving of recognition.