Jo Ellen Whitney


Jo Ellen is adept at managing the everyday chaos employers and human resource managers face. She is known for her approachable demeanor and practical approach to employment law. She shares her knowledge regularly – Jo is a prolific speaker and writer – simultaneously educating and entertaining audiences on the grey areas of employment law.

Her clients are employers, managers, physicians, hospital administrators, and HR professionals in the health, manufacturing, telecommunications, technology, agriculture, and finance industries as well as not-for-profit service organizations. She is described as “top notch” by clients she advises on a wide array of matters and issues relating to employment & labor law, health law, fair housing, privacy/data security compliance, and contract/policy issues relating to grant funding.

Employment & Labor Law

Jo Ellen handles a variety of issues ranging from business planning and contracts to representation before administrative agencies such as the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the EEOC, Iowa Workforce Development, OSHA, and the Department of Labor, as well as state and federal courts.

As a prior chair of Davis Brown’s Human Resources Committee, Jo Ellen brings practical experience to her advice for employers on business planning, discipline, and termination issues. She has extensive experience with contract development, employee handbooks, and internal policies and practices for employment issues and regulatory compliance, including the ADA/ADAAA, FLSA, HIPAA and FMLA. Jo Ellen has developed sample policies for a number of professional groups and organizations including members of the Iowa Communications Alliance, Iowa Credit Unions, and the Iowa Health Care Association.

For employers who have Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI), Jo Ellen serves as designated counsel on a variety of matters such as wrongful termination, retaliation, discrimination, harassment, wage hour, and civil rights.

Health Law

Jo Ellen works extensively in the field of health care law, including privacy and confidentiality issues, such as HIPAA and GINA, for hospitals, clinics, and small practices. She has worked on medical staffing, credentialing and privileging matters, as well as consent and risk analysis. She also has practical experience implementing HIPAA in her role as Dentons Davis Brown’s privacy officer for data security compliance.

Jo Ellen also works with health care clients on matters including:

  • Drug diversion and misuse of prescription drugs
  • HIPAA/HiTECH, privacy, security and record release and retention
  • E-data release, security, and retention
  • Medical research – NIH, FDA and privately funded research – compliance and ethics
  • Consent to medical care, procedures, issues
  • Specialty records – HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, mental health, and genetics
  • Licensure matters, including before the Iowa Board of Medicine
  • Business planning and policies regarding staffing, discipline, and terminations

Thought Leadership

Regarded as one of the area’s best employment practitioners for training matters,” – Reference Feedback, Chambers USA

Jo Ellen is a thought leader, frequently writing blogs and presenting regularly at employer training sessions, trade association conferences, and professional affiliation groups including NTCA (rural broadband providers) and national and local chapters of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). She is also a contributor to professional and trade magazines, newsletters, and legal bulletins in the areas of employment law, privacy and health law, and serves as editor of the Iowa Employment Law Letter.

The author of multiple editions of the Iowa Guide to Medical Records, Jo Ellen also speaks frequently on HIPAA, medical records privacy, physician issues, and consent matters relating to the provision of medical care. She is a regular speaker for the Iowa Health Care Association, Iowa Health Information Management Association, Iowa Medical Society, Iowa Hospital Association, Iowa Podiatric Society, and other groups on topics relating to long term care, the provision of medical services, medical practitioners, and privacy.


Jo Ellen and her family have won multiple Iowa State Fair blue ribbons for recipes including Plum BBQ Sauce and Parmesan Herb Crisps. An avid hockey fan, she also has season tickets for the Iowa Wild.


  • COVID-19: advises clients on pandemic-related issues such as travel, vaccinations, return to work, FFCRA, policies, OSHA, and general best practices
  • Wage Hour: helps clients with wage hour claims, often on employee categorization, minimum wage, overtime questions, and compliance. 
  • Discrimination: helps hospitals and long-term care facilities on questions related to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act – prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs or activities. Recently, she has assisted several clients with questions about transgender employees and patients including issues of discrimination and medical services including writing policies and assessing benefit issues. 
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): throughout her career, Jo Ellen has provided clients with advice, presented, and written articles about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), especially as it relates to adequate notice of an employee’s FMLA rights and requesting FMLA data from an employee.
  • Social Media in the Workplace: There has been a great deal of publicity about health care workers sharing photos or videos of residents/patients on Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media. It’s a complicated area for employers in all industries as multiple agencies, including CMS and the NLRB, have different and sometimes contradictory social media expectations. Privacy can be a hard concept to explain and enforce, Jo Ellen works to provide employers the policies and direct training necessary to adhere to these requirements.
  • Drug Diversion: helps the health care industry navigate a complex area of drug diversion and misuse of prescription drugs. Consequences are serious and can result in termination as well as possible loss of insurance status, hospital privileges, IBM licensure, and DEA issues. For several years, Jo Ellen has worked with providers on compliance issues, providing proactive training and feedback to potentially help prevent drug diversion from happening in her clients’ workplaces.


  • The Best Lawyers in America® 2024: Employment Law – Management and Health Care LawJo Ellen has been recognized since 2012
  • Chambers USA 2023: Ranked in Labor and Employment Law, Iowa Band 2. Jo Ellen has been ranked for several years
  • AV® Preeminent™ rated by Martindale-Hubbell. The highest peer rating standard. This rating signifies that a large number of the lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence for their legal knowledge, communication skills, and ethical standards
  • 2022 Great Plains Super Lawyers, Employment & Labor. Jo Ellen has been recognized 2007
  • Best Lawyers® 2013 Health Care Law “Lawyer of the Year” in the Des Moines metro

Honors and Awards

  • Governor’s Volunteer Award recipient in 2007 and 1997 in recognition of her volunteer service to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission

In the Media


Jo Ellen is a prolific author and often writes articles for HR professionals, owners, in-house counsel, healthcare providers, and more. In the last few months, she has written:

  • Contributor, “Employee Privacy Laws: Iowa,” Thomson Reuters Practical Law, December 2022

  • Author, “GINA and COVID Vaccinations,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, June 2021
  • Author, “Iowa Supreme Court Rules on Defamation Claims in Board of Medicine Reports,” Iowa Health Law Insights, June 2021
  • Author, “Even the DOL is Issuing Cybersecurity Instructions,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, June 2021
  • Author, “Anti-Disparagement Agreements in Iowa,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, June 2021
  • Author, “Communications from the CDC: To Mask or Unmask, that is the Question,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, June 2021
  • Author, “Special Shift Assignments and the FMLA,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, June 2021
  • Co-author, “Iowa Ends Participation in Federal Unemployment Benefit Programs,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, May 2021
  • Author, “IWD job service claims theft a growing problem,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, April 2021
  • Author, “Youth workers in Iowa,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, April 2021
  • Author, “The American Rescue Plan’s employer impact,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, April 2021
  • Author, “Facebook Said-Addressing Ongoing COVID-19 Issues,” Iowa Employment Law Insights, March 2021
  • Author, “COVID Changes to Iowa Law,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, March 2021
  • Author, “Not Normal Yet – COVID Spring Break 2021,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, March 2021
  • Author, “Discrimination Concerns in Skipping Notice Period,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, March 2021
  • Author, “Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Blank on the Way Out: Skipping the Notice Period,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, February 2021
  • Author, “HR Quick Take: Religious Decorations in the Workplace,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, February 2021
  • Author, “New Forms Required for Iowa Workforce Development,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, February 2021
  • Author, “Coronavirus Protections Enacted by Two Executive Orders,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, February 2021
  • Author, “HR Quick Take: Language Fluency as a Job Requirement,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, February 2021
  • Author, “HR Quick Take: Severance Agreements,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, February 2021
  • Author, “HR Quick Take: Reduced Hour Pay,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, February 2021
  • Author, “HR Quick Take: FMLA Medical Certification,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, January 2021
  • Author, “HR Quick Take: Minimum Wage Increasing,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, January 2021
  • Author, “HR Quick Take: Borrowing PTO,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, January 2021
  • Author, “HR Quick Take: Volunteer Mileage,” Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog, January 2021

Activities and Affiliations

  • American Bar Association
  • Employers Counsel Network
  • Inne of Mediation
  • Iowa State Bar Association
  • Lincoln Inne
  • Polk County Bar Association
  • Polk County Women Attorneys


Jo Ellen is a frequent speaker and thought leader. In the last year she has presented:

  • Presenter, “Wage and Hour and Confidentiality in Settlements/Severance Agreements,” Association of Corporate Counsel – Iowa Chapter, May 2023

  • Presenter, “Employment Quirks and Privacy Practices,” Polk County Certified Shorthand Reporters Association, April 2023

  • Presenter, “The Changing Landscape in Medical Credentialing,” Iowa Association of Medical Staff Services Annual Education Conference, April 2023

  • Panelist, “Chaos and Consternation – Agencies Look to Change Severance, Settlement and Non-Competes,” Dentons Davis Brown Employment Seminar, April 2023
  • Presenter, “Same Old Song and Dance with a New Refrain: Open Records and Meetings Law Post-COVID,” Dentons Davis Brown Employment Seminar, April 2023
  • Presenter, “When Everyone is Watching – Employee Surveillance and Tracking in a Remote World,” Dentons Davis Brown Employment Seminar, April 2023
  • Presenter, “Hot Topics Impacting Clinics and Practices,” Heartland Foot and Ankle Conference, October 2022
  • Presenter, “Tough Calls – Professionalism Issues in Decision-making, Documentation, and Discussions with Employees,” Iowa Motor Truck Association, June 2022
  • Presenter, “Hot Topics Impacting Clinics and Practices,” Iowa Osteopathic Medical Association Upper Midwest Osteopathic Health Conference, May 2022
  • Presenter, “Religious & Race/Color/National Origin,” Central Iowa Society of Human Resources, February 2022
  • Panelist, “Mandating Vaccinations and Return to Work – A Global Overview,” In-House Counsel CLE Webinar Series: Grow, Protest, Operate and Finance, February 2022
  • Presenter, “What Crawled Out from the COVID Rock”, North Iowa SHRM, November 2021
  • Presenter, “Legal Aspects of Management,” Iowa Communications Alliance, October 2021
  • Panelist, “Reframing the COVID-19 Debate: Workplace Safety Transcends Social & Political Assertions,” National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, October 2021
  • Presenter, “Out from Under the COVID Rock – Changes in the Workplace for 2021-2022,” 2021 Iowa Credit Union Convention, September 2021
  • Presenter, “Recent Credentialing Court Cases,” 2021 Iowa Association Medical Staff Services Annual Educational Conference, April 2021
  • Presenter, “Ways to Avoid Negligent Credentialing,” 2021 Iowa Association Medical Staff Services Annual Educational Conference, April 2021
  • Presenter, “A Year of Best Guesses and Waivers – Data Privacy and Security,” Iowa Health Information Management Association 2021 Annual Business Meeting, April 2021
  • Panelist, “COVID Conversations: Healthcare Worker Vaccination and Employer Mandates,” Iowa Medical Society webinar, February 2021
  • Co-presenter, Virtual Roundtable with Dr. Barbara Hodne of The Iowa Clinic and Ryan Brunner of Wellmark Blue Crosse Blue Shield, Holmes Murphy & Associates, January 2021
  • Presenter, “Bonus Pay, Tests & Vaccines – Questions We Never Thought About Before COVID-19,” Iowa Health Care Association webinar, January 2021
  • Guest, HR Works podcast, December 2020
  • Panelist, “COVID-19 Case Law and Legal Issues (ADA Accommodation Issues),” Iowa State Bar Association 2020 Labor and Employment Law Seminar, December 2020
  • Presenter, “Working in a Pandemic – Questions, Answers & Updates for Iowa Employers,” Iowa Employment Conference, October 2020
  • Presenter, “Work & School During COVID-19… Now What?,” Holmes Murphy Work on the Street webinar series, October 2020
  • Panelist, “Workplace Dynamics and Reentry,” Holmes Murphy virtual roundtable, July 2020
  • Presenter, “Risk Management – Volunteers Returning to Hospitals,” Iowa Hospital Association webinar, June 2020
  • Panelist, “Newsroom 515 Legal Matters Coronavirus,” Busines Record panel, March 2020


  • Society for Human Resource Management

Prior and Present Employment

  • Dentons Davis Brown (formerly Davis Brown Law Firm)