For employers with 50 or more employees covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA” or “the Act”) there are serious administrative responsibilities tied to compliance with the Act’s provisions. A recent Third Circuit Court decision underscores several pitfalls potentially facing employers on their path toward compliance.
In Lupyan v. Corinthian Colleges the Court denied Corinthian an opportunity to dismiss the case against them at an early stage, because the school could not prove that Lupyan, its former employee, had received the FMLA forms mailed to her. Lupyan claimed she had not received the FMLA forms. Lupyan contended, she was unaware her leave was taken under the FMLA and therefore was capped at 12 weeks. The Court held that Lupyan’s denial of receipt ruled out early dismissal of the case.
Prior to this decision, many employers had relied on the “mailbox rule,” which provided that forms sent through certified mail created a presumption that the intended recipient had in fact received those forms. Lupyan v. Corinthian Colleges eliminated the “mailbox rule,” citing the myriad, inexpensive methods available for employers to confirm receipt, including e-mail confirmation. A significant lesson of this case is for employers to begin requesting signature upon receipt, when mailing legally-mandated notices.
Lupyan’s lessons do not end at the mailbox; rather the case also points employers to the value of maintaining quality communication with employees, while they are on FMLA or disability leave. Had Corinthian Colleges maintained contact with Lupyan during her leave, any misunderstanding surrounding the nature of her leave would likely have been discovered and rectified, potentially avoiding this conflict altogether. Periodic communication can better inform an employer of the extent of the leave, and ease the employee back into the workforce.
It is important for employers to note that employees are protected by more than the 12 week job guarantee contained in the FMLA, which gives employees the right to return to their original position or to its equivalent. For instance, when FMLA leave is taken for disability purposes, the employee is also protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Under ADA rules, the employer needs to discuss possible accommodations with the employee, often including additional leave. Such additional leave may have to be granted, as the circumstances dictate. Employers often face tough decisions when employees need extended periods of leave. The Lupyan case stresses that communicating directly with the employee is a vital part of managing the leave process.