WETHERSFIELD — Connecticut’s unemployment rate fell in March, but so did the state’s total number of nonfarm jobs. The latter decline — a loss of 2,700 positions — may well have been weather-related, according to the director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Research. “The warm winter allowed many weather-sensitive job sectors to remain active longer and show stronger growth than is typical. As a result, the normal seasoned upswings we see in the spring appear smaller than usual,” said Andy Condon in a release. “Once seasonally adjusted,” he explained, “some of these sectors, including construction and trade, are now showing declines.”

The greatest losses were in the trade transportation ad utilities supersector, which shed 2,300 positions in March, and the construction sector, which lost 1,300 jobs. However, the state saw a net gain of 10,500 jobs (0.6 percent) over the past year. And March saw significant gains in some sectors, including administrative and waste management services (1,900 jobs added) and professional and business services (an increase of 600). The unemployment rate was 7.7 percent, down one-tenth of a percentage point from February. The national unemployment rate was 8.2 percent.

 ANSONIA — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cited International Stone Inc. for 11 alleged violations of workplace safety standards at its Ansonia marble and granite fabrication operation. Proposed penalties for the company total $47,600.

OSHA’s Bridgeport office opened an inspection December 1 in response to a complaint. OSHA found employees cutting and polishing granite and marble with unguarded grinders and without eye, face and hand protection; unapproved electrical equipment and outlets used in wet locations; blocked access to circuit breakers; ungrounded, spliced and misused extension cords; worn or illegible control buttons for a crane used to lift and move slabs of marble and granite; trip and fall hazards; and obstructed exit access. These conditions resulted in citations for nine serious violations carrying $35,000 in proposed fines. Two repeat violations, with $12,600 in proposed fines, involve hazards similar to those cited during a 2008 OSHA inspection of International Stone’s Marshfield, Mass., location.

The company had 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

 NEW HAVEN — Managers with employees who are students at Gateway Community College might want to remind those workers that they can get free help with their income tax preparation through April 14. Between now and then, GCC will offer free tax assistance workshops on Wednesdays from 7:15 to 9:15 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to its students who are working and earning less than $50,000. Volunteers will be available to help with 2011 Connecticut and federal tax preparation and e-filing. The workshops will be offered in the cafeteria of GCC’s Long Wharf campus, 60 Sargent Drive. The workshops are offered in partnership with the New Life Corp. of New Haven and the IRS Stakeholder Relationship Division’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.

 Assessing how proposed legislation that may or may not be enacted might affect the business community is often fraught with peril. Take, for example, the push by some Connecticut lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana.

“I would say that our members have not thought about it and wouldn’t comment on it unless it was something they had to deal with,” says Jerry Clupper, executive director of the New Haven Manufacturers Association.

“I can’t speak on behalf of CBIA on that. I don’t know if we’ve taken a position on that,” adds Mark Soycher, counsel, human resources services, for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

But if the proposal gains momentum and does become law, businesses will have to deal with it.

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, in 1996. Since then more than a dozen states have followed suit. Among the latest were Arizona and New Jersey, as well as the District of Columbia, in 2010, and Delaware in 2011. As of February, 17 states had introduced legislation to legalize marijuana.

While Connecticut last year decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, a measure to permit use of physician-prescribed marijuana failed. It is again being considered.

If passed, would businesses be faced with having to adopt policies that specifically address issues related to medical marijuana use, including possible impairment and inability to perform duties because of marijuana’s side effects?

“I’m not sure how many of those folks would be in the workforce,” notes Soycher, adding although he’s not familiar with all the uses of medical marijuana, his understanding is that it is usually prescribed to a person who is “quite debilitated or incapacitated.”

At any rate, Soycher surmises that existing laws would be a start in determining how companies might respond to any possible enactment of a medical marijuana-use law. For example, a person who might become drowsy after taking prescribed medication and whose job duties include operating a forklift would, if he worked at all during the period of medication, probably be reassigned responsibilities.

“Disability laws would probably come into play,” says Soycher. “There’d be an adjustment. He shouldn’t be doing that type of job.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) addressed the issue in a 2009 memo that might serve as a guide to concerned companies, notes Soycher. In it, DOT stated that “safety-sensitive transportation employees” such as pilots, school bus drivers, truck drivers, train engineers, aircraft maintenance personnel, ship captains, pipeline emergency response personnel and others, would still have to adhere the department’s drug-testing policies.

The memo states, in part: “The Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation…does not authorize ‘medical marijuana’ under a state law to be a valid medical explanation for a transportation employee’s positive drug test result. Therefore, Medical Review Officers will not verify a drug test as negative based upon information that a physician recommended that the employee use ‘medical marijuana.’ Please note that marijuana…remains unacceptable for any safety-sensitive employee subject to drug testing under the Department of Transportation’s drug testing regulations to use marijuana.”

Businesses concerned about safety might want to follow the DOT’s lead, suggests Soycher.

“The public should be reassured that if it [a medical marijuana law] were passed,” he says, “it’s not going to be a practice that’s going to endanger the public in most kinds of conditions,” at least according to the U.S. government.

 

 HAMDEN — Local health care facilities seeking to employ physician assistants trained at one of “the nation’s best” educational institutions for that profession need look no further than Quinnipiac University, according to U.S. News & World Report. The periodical ranked the university’s School of Health physician assistant program No. 11 among schools offering master’s degrees in the field, in the 2013 edition of its annual Best Graduate Schools guidebook. The accolade “reflects the hard work and dedication of our faculty and students,” said Cynthia Booth Lord, clinical associate professor and director of the physician assistant program, in a statement. She added that the program prepares students by focusing on “clinical excellence, leadership, professionalism, service (to the community) and cultural competence.” The guidebook will be available April 3.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has brought a new trade action against China, claiming that the Asian nation’s policies unfairly restrict American companies’ access to rare earth materials. The U.S. is joined in its complaint by Japan and some European allies, President Barack Obama announced March 13. Rare earth materials, which China supplies, are used to manufacture hybrid cars and advanced batteries. Obama said in a statement that bringing the case against China would help level the energy-industry manufacturing playing field and strengthen fair trade.

 Two Connecticut residents, along with two students attending college in the state, have been selected to participate in the White House Internship Program for the Spring 2012 session, the White House has announced. Described as “future leaders” in a White House press release, the chosen interns are Brian Bendett of West Hartford, who attends Cornell University; Amanda DeGroff of Glastonbury, a student at Wheaton College; Yale University student Dana Rosenzweig of Wyomissing, Pa.; and Wesleyan University student Andrew Zack, who is from Baltimore, Md.