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.
Along with payment of medical bills, time off of work, and permanent injury benefits, Nebraska laws include a unique workers’ compensation benefit: vocational rehabilitation.
To understand how the vocational rehabilitation benefit works in Nebraska, one must understand that the primary purpose of workers’ compensation is to restore an injured worker to gainful employment.
In order to accomplish that purpose, the workers’ compensation laws provide guidance of the following priorities:
Return to the previous job with the same employer;
Modification of the previous job with the same employer;
A new job with the same employer;
A job with a new employer; or
A period of formal training that is designed to lead to employment in another career field.
The goal of “gainful employment” is to get the employee back to making equal or similar wages to what he or she was making at the time of the injury. As a result, sometimes an injured worker’s permanent restrictions (resulting from the work injury) are such that he or she cannot return to work in the previous job. Further, the employer may not be able to modify or give him or her a new job within those restrictions.
Thus, if the goal of “gainful employment” cannot be accomplished by numbers one through three above, a vocational-rehabilitation specialist may be appointed in order to provide vocational-rehabilitation services such as job placement, training, or even further education. The expenses of the aforementioned are covered by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund. During the time the injured worker is undergoing job placement, training, or education, he or she is entitled to temporary-disability benefits from the employer. This is a wonderful benefit, and some of our clients have even been able to go to college for a two-year or even four-year degree in order to return to the workforce and make similar or more money than they were making at the time of the accident and injury.
Today’s blog post is a part of a continuing series that explores the basics of workers’ compensation. Please read the previous blog posts in the series by clicking on these links, and be sure to consult an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer with questions: