Functional Capacity Evaluations / FCE Testing and Workers’ Compensation Cases: What You Need to Know

In Workers’ Compensation, Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCEs) are used to access an Injured Worker’s Permanent Disability and/or Impairment. The evaluation results can also be used to determine their ability to return to work as well as their need for medical care.

What is a Functional Capacity Evaluation?

Functional Capacity Evaluation’s purpose is to obtain information concerning an Injured Worker’s Functional Loss, Work Abilities, Work Restrictions, the Validity of the Injured Worker’s Complaints, and the Nature and Extent of their injury. A FCE Technician, who is trained to perform such evaluations, will conduct the evaluation with the Injured Worker. The evaluation will question the injured Worker concerning their abilities as well as ask them to perform varied tasks.

Who requests Functional Capacity Evaluations?

In California Worker’s Compensation, Injured Workers are involved with a variety of physicians. These include Treating Physicians, Agreed Medical Evaluators, Qualified Medical Evaluators or Regular Physicians. Any of these Physicians may request a FCE evaluation for a workers compensation case in order to assist them in completing their reports.

Why are Functional Capacity Evaluations requested?

Functional Capacity Evaluation can be used to address a number of issues. These include Permanent Disability, Permanent Impairment, Need for Medical Care, and Ability to Return to Work. Physicians request the FCE to obtain information about the Injured Worker beyond what they can obtain during a typical workers’ compensation evaluation. A workers’ compensation evaluation usually consists of a short office visit in which a physical examination is performed. The FCE allows the Physician to obtain more extensive data to employ in generating their Medical-Legal opinions. Medical-Legal opinions in worker’s compensation law must be expressed with reasonable medical probability and be of the quality that they would be considered as substantial.

functional capacity evaluations in workers comp cases

What happens during a Functional Capacity Evaluation?

During a Functional Capacity Evaluation of the Injured Worker, there are several things that will take place. First, they will meet with the Technician, a person who is trained and qualified to make the assessments. There may be an intake procedure in which the Technician will take the Injured Worker’s demographics, their work injury history, their medical history and their social history. Also, the Injured Worker may be requested to fill out questionnaires and pain diagrams. The Injured Worker may be asked to prepare a Job Analysis.

A Job Analysis may include describing the job tasks and the environment in which they are performed. Also, the physical demands of the employment are explored. These physical demands may include tasks such as lifting, carrying, sitting, standing, walking driving, pushing and pulling. Further, they may address climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, twisting, reaching, handling, gripping, feeling, seeing, hearing, speaking, and walking on uneven surfaces.

In the Job Analysis, Environmental Factors will be addressed. This can include chemical exposure, temperature extremes, heights, dust exposure, machinery, humidity exposure, loud noises, exposure to fumes, and vibrations.

During the FCE test, the Injured Worker will be requested to perform physical tasks. These include testing capacity with respect to lifting, pushing, pulling, standing, walking, flexibility, reaching, grasping, holding, bending, and balancing.

Are all Functional Capacity Evaluations Equal?

No. Functional Capacity Evaluations are not equal. FCEs come in a variety. Issues that affect the results may include the quality of the evaluator, the physical and/or mental state of the Injured Worker at the time of the evaluation, and the thoroughness of the evaluation. If the evaluation is not of good quality, the results will not accurately assess the Injured Worker’s disability or impairment.

How will a Functional Capacity Evaluation, Impact an Injured Worker’s Case?

A Functional Capacity Evaluation may be used to address return to work, disability, impairment and medical treatment issues.

FCE results can have an impact on the issue of whether an Injured Worker has attained Maximum Medical Improvement or Permanent and Stationary status.

FCE results can include Whole Person Impairment ratings. This information can be interpreted by an Evaluating Physician to determine impairment.

FCE results can assist with addressing medical treatment issues. It can assist in determining whether additional treatment or rehabilitation is indicated.

FCE results can assist the parties with Return-To-Work issues. They can assist with respect to return to work with no restriction or modification. They can assist with respect to return to work with restrictions or modifications. They can be used to determine whether an alternative position with different demands would be appropriate. Finally, they can assist with whether the Injured Worker has the capacity to compete in the open labor market or participate in a vocational rehabilitation program.

FCE results can assist the parties with respect to Credibility Issues. FCE may deliver data concerning the consistency and the validity of the Injured Worker’s efforts. If the evaluation results show consistent efforts and the testing shows validity in the efforts, the FCE will bolster the Injured Worker’s credibility concerning their complaints impairment and/or disability.

If there are inconsistent efforts, there are a multiple of explanations. Inconsistent efforts can imply that the Injured Worker lacks credibility concerning their complaints or their ability to perform tasks. Some explanations for inconsistent results may not be related to credibility.  A lack of effort can also be suggestive of depressive or anxiety disorders. For example, an Injured Worker with a bad back may be afraid of lifting objects of significant weight.

Finally, the FCE test may be questioned as to the quality of the evaluator and whether they obtained the data in an accurate way.

Are there any recommendations for an Injured Worker undergoing a Functional Capacity Evaluation?

Functional Capacity Evaluations are only as good as the data that is received. If there is a lack of effort by the Injured Worker, it can be interpreted that the data received from the evaluation is unreliable. Any measurements or impairment data generated from the FCE would be discounted by the Physician requesting it. Therefore, it is very important to advise the FCE Technician of any medications or problems which prevent you from giving a maximal effort. Further, be sure to be careful in filling out the forms required to make sure that they are as accurate as possible.

If you would like a free consultation with a workers’ compensation attorney, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 25 years. Contact us today for more information.

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