A functional capacity evaluation, or FCE for short, is a test that is usually conducted by a physical therapist that tests your physical abilities. They are common in workers’ compensation claims that involve surgeries or extended courses of treatment. So why are injured workers asked to perform functional capacity evaluations:
Injured worker is done treating and medically stable: Usually a doctor will order a functional capacity when the injured worker is medically stable. Sometimes the term “maximum medical improvement” or MMI is used in conjunction with an order for an FCE. MMI is as much a legal determination as it a medical determination. But when an injured worker is at the point of an FCE, the insurer likely believes or would like to believe the claim is close to finished.
Determining restrictions for return to work, permanent disability and vocational rehabilitation. FCE results are given almost total deference by workers’ comp bureaucrats like adjusters and case managers. HR managers also rely on them to place injured workers back in employment. But the FCE is only an estimate. By law an employee can testify to the extent of their own restrictions and an employer has some reasonable obligation to work with those restrictions. A Judge can also rely on testimony from a worker about the extent of their own restrictions. The problems is that an employee may have to wait months before they can testify to their own restrictions and go without benefits and pay until then.
Restrictions from an FCE can also be used to determine permanent disability or vocational rehabilitation benefits. This should mean that at some point a vocational rehabilitation counselor should be involved in your case. Even if you have returned to work for the same employer, in many cases a counselor should be still he helping to determine your disability. Also even if you haven’t gone back to work and might have applied for or be receiving social security disability a counselor should be performing a loss of earning power evaluation in many cases. Often times an insurance company will attempt to close a case after an FCE.
Employers/Insurers may be trying to the validity of your work restrictions. FCEs are designed to see if an employee is giving full effort on the test. In many cases an FCE that is set up by employer/insurer harkens back to the old concept of “trial by ordeal” or “trial by battle” where success in a physical feat could prove guilt or innocence. In the case of a workers’ compensation claim success or failure in an FCE can go a long way towards determining the ultimate outcome of a workers’ compensation case.
Regardless of why an injured worker is being sent to an FCE, it is probably good idea for an injured worker to check-in with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for a free consultation if they are scheduled for an FCE. The attorneys at our firm can help injured employees navigate the trial by battle that an employer-scheduled FCE can be. We can also let you know what to expect after an FCE and help you overcome the consequences of a bad FCE.