Workers, after suffering on-the-job injuries, may be obligated to undergo a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) before returning to work. The stated purpose of the FCE is to ensure that a worker can return to his job of injury in good physical health, and safely perform his duties. The FCE can also be used to determine what type of work an employee is capable of returning to should he not be capable of returning to his job of injury.
The American Physical Therapy Association defines a FCE as a “comprehensive battery of performance based tests that is used commonly to determine ability for work, activities of daily living, or leisure activities.” The tests are designed to simulate the physical aspects of an eight hour work day and typically take one to two days to complete in blocks of several hours. Tasks such as balancing, carrying, stooping and climbing are administered, and the worker is subsequently evaluated. The physical intensity of the employee’s pre-injury position is also taken into account; the FCE has a number of job categories, ranging from “sedentary” to “very heavy.” If a worker’s performance in “lifting,” for example, is lacking, this will be less detrimental to a worker whose job is categorized as “sedentary.”
An FCE cannot be administered without the employee’s consent. If a worker refuses to participate in the evaluation, and doesn’t meet the criteria for his job category, he may be restricted in his return to the workforce.
Reasons for falling short of the FCE’s standards can be legitimate, but they could also result from inadequacies on the part of the test administrator, problems with the evaluation itself, a worker’s misunderstanding of test instructions, or other elements. Alternatively, if a worker has reached his Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI), and still doesn’t function at the physical level necessary for his job, the FCE can determine that the employee can go back to work in a position that accommodates his restrictions.
The most important thing an injured worker should remember regarding an FCE is to give the evaluation your best effort, don’t take pain medication before or during the test unless your physician instructs you to, tell the truth and be open and honest.