Yes. Many states have versions of OSHA that offer the same or a greater level of protection. Even if your state’s version has the same issues as the Federal law, your state’s Department of Labor might have a higher rate of enforcement than the Federal government. In a detailed analysis of the federal OSHA claims, workplace safety expert and Professor at Northeastern University School of Law, Emily A. Spieler, found that only 10% of potentially meritorious claims resulted in reinstatement.
Today, almost every state provides protections for whistleblowers, either under its common law or under a state whistleblower protection statute. Additionally, 22 states have enacted their own OSHA laws that either have the same or greater protections, as does the federal OSHA law. Numerous workers who have faced retaliation for raising workplace safety concerns or for refusing to perform life-threatening jobs have relied upon strong state laws for protection. A growing number of state courts are permitting employees to sue their employers in state court for significant damages in cases that would also be covered under the federal OSHA law.
Many state courts recognize that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act is completely “inadequate,” as a matter of law, to displace state rights over employee safety. A Missouri Court of Appeals decision summarized the weaknesses in the federal law, clearly explaining why employees could use the Missouri laws to obtain protection:
OSHA only allows an employee to file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor who then decides whether to bring an action . . . the employee’s right to relief is further restricted in that the complaint must be filed within thirty days. . . . The decision to assert a cause of action is in the sole discretion of the Secretary of Labor and the statute affords the employee no appeal if the Secretary declines to file suit.
Consistent with the Missouri court’s ruling, other states have permitted OSHA whistleblowers to file lawsuits under the “public policy exception.” Under this doctrine, whistleblowers are usually permitted file lawsuits based on state tort (i.e., personal injury) law, and obtain back pay, other economic damages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages. These states include Alaska, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, and Oklahoma.
You should also review the Coronavirus Whistleblowers FAQ.