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Time To Rethink Sending Important Notices By U.S. Mail?

Courts universally apply a presumption that if a postpaid envelope is deposited in a U.S. Postal Service mailbox, the recipient receives it a few days later. However, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia has ruled in Lupyan v. Corinthian Colleges, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 15019 (3d Cir. 2014), that this may no longer be true in cases in which the recipient denies having received the mail.


The plaintiff in this case submitted a leave of absence request form seeking “personal leave.”  A short time thereafter, she provided FMLA medical certification supporting her need for leave. The employer converted her request for “personal leave” into one for FMLA leave, and sent her FMLA notices designating her absence as such by U.S. mail. Plaintiff required 14 weeks’ leave (two weeks more than FMLA provides).  When she thereafter submitted a note from her physician releasing her to return to work, the employer informed her that she had been terminated because she had not returned to work after her 12 weeks’ FMLA leave had expired.  Plaintiff claimed that she had never received notice that the employer had designated her leave as FMLA leave and sued, alleging that the employer failed to give her notice that her absence was covered by the FMLA


According to the court, if the employer could have shown that plaintiff actually received its FMLA correspondence, her FMLA claim would have been dismissed.  However, the employer failed to do so.  Regular mail, the court stated, assures a “weaker presumption” of receipt than, for example, certified mail, and this “weaker” presumption is nullified where, as here, the addressee denies receipt of the mailing.  The court observed:


In 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.  The negligible cost and inconvenience of doing so is dwarfed by the practical consequences and potential unfairness of simply relying on business practices in the sender’s mailroom.