In the recent case of Lupyan v. Corinthian Colleges Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that, when an employee alleged she did not receive notice of her Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) rights, the employer’s proof that it mailed such notice, without a return receipt or tracking information, was insufficient to avoid a lengthy litigation.

In Lupyan, the plaintiff believed she had taken a short-term disability leave of absence when Corinthian Colleges Inc. (“CCI”) had actually designated her leave as FMLA. CCI argued that it sent the plaintiff a letter, via regular mail, advising her that it designated her absence as FMLA leave and explaining her rights under the FMLA. When she did not return following expiration of her twelve-week FMLA leave, CCI terminated the plaintiff’s employment. However, the plaintiff denied ever receiving the FMLA notification.

When the plaintiff filed suit in federal court, alleging FMLA interference and retaliation, CCI moved to dismiss the case on summary judgment because it properly mailed the FMLA notification to the plaintiff. The District Court granted summary judgment and dismissed the case, but the Third Circuit reversed. The Third Circuit disregarded the well-established “mailbox rule,” which presumes delivery of an item properly addressed and placed in the mail. Instead, it stated that CCI could have, but did not send the FMLA notice by certified mail, request a return receipt, or utilize any other method with a tracking option. The Third Circuit stated that “[i]n this age of computerized communications and handheld devices, it is certainly not expecting too much to require businesses that wish to avoid a material dispute about the receipt of a letter to use some form of mailing that includes verifiable receipt when mailing something as important as a legally mandated notice.”

In light of the Third Circuit’s ruling, employers who merely place notice of FMLA rights in the mail to satisfy the FMLA’s requirements may be faced with protracted and unnecessary litigation if an employee claims that he or she never received it. Accordingly, employers should be sure to send FMLA notices by certified mail or some other means providing for a delivery receipt and/or tracking options.