Fewer toys recalled this year
Q: There don't seem to be as many recalls on children's toys this year as in previous years. Is that true?
A: Yes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in the middle of November that there had been just 38 toy recalls in 2009, compared with 162 in 2008 and 148 in 2007. Toy recalls involving lead paint are also down this year, to 14 from 85 in 2008 and 63 in 2007.
The CPSC says better enforcement at U.S. ports, higher industry compliance and greater cooperation with countries that make toys are responsible.
Federal safety rules have also been tightened, the CPSC announced. Limits on lead paint in children's toys dropped to 90 parts per million, toys for children under 12 must be tested and certified they meet the lead paint standard, children's toys cannot be made with more than 300 parts per million of total lead or more than 0.1 percent of six prohibited phthalates (substances added to plastics to increase flexibility, transparency and durability), and most children's toys now fall under mandatory standards instead of voluntary ones.
Time off for religious reasons
Q: What are my rights when requesting time off work for religious reasons?
A: For companies with more than 15 people, federal law requires employers to "reasonably accommodate" an employee's religious beliefs. Employers are exempt only if they can show the accommodation would cause an "undue hardship" on business.
Examples of accommodations include shift swaps, flexible scheduling or use of lunch time in exchange for early departure.
Employers generally do not have to pay workers for time off taken for religious reasons, however, so workers should arrange to use vacation or unpaid personal days. As long as religious needs are accommodated, the employer is not obligated to meet specific requests preferred by the worker.
Workers are not required to provide proof of their religious beliefs to employers, such as notes from a member of the clergy.
Growing diversity in the workplace is one reason for the spike in religious discrimination filings with the federal government, said a spokesman for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last year, there were 3,273 religious discrimination filings with the EEOC. There are likely many more cases that go unreported for fear of retaliation or lack of awareness about federal protections.
Potential employers are not allowed to question job applicants about their religion or whether their religion would prevent them from working certain days. However, employers may detail the days and hours of the job.
For a Q&A about religious discrimination in the workplace, see www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_religion.html.