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Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCE)

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Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCE)In an Illinois workers’ compensation claim, one of the biggest questions that is asked is, “In what capacity can the worker return?” In other words, do they need any restrictions as to their job duties? While most return to their full duty job following a full release from a doctor, that is not the case with everyone. When a doctor tells you that you are as good as you are going to get, but it’s not as good as you need to be, a functional capacity examination (FCE) will likely be ordered.

FCE’s can also be referred to as Functional Capacity Assessments, Physical Capacity Assessments/Evaluations, or Work Capacity Assessments/Evaluations. Regardless of the name of this test, it is an individualized assessment of a person’s ability to perform job-related tasks and functions.

After an injured worker completes medical treatment, there may still be uncertainty as to the level of their work capabilities. At this point, an FCE may be prescribed in order to determine work capabilities. For example, if an employee prior to a work accident was able to lift heavy boxes as part of his or her job duties, an FCE can be used to verify whether the employee is presently able to lift heavy boxes, even if the employee believes they cannot. In other words, an FCE can be used to determine the validity of the employee’s beliefs regarding their own work capabilities.

Furthermore, FCEs can be used to determine an individual’s limitations with respect to job duties. Thus, for an employee who lifted heavy boxes, an FCE can serve to assess the worker’s capabilities of lifting lighter boxes. Typically at the end of the FCE there will be a report that says what restrictions are needed for lifting, bending, stooping, standing, sitting and walking. Attorneys then look at these restrictions and compare them to the actual job duties required to determine if the injured worker can return to the old job or if they need to be accommodated with a new position.

Employers, insurance companies, physicians, case managers, therapists, and attorneys often rely on these FCE evaluations to make determinations regarding an injured worker’s ability to return to work. Any one of these people can initially recommend that the injured worker get an FCE but it generally requires a prescription from a physician.

An FCE can also be used to answer more complicated questions during a claim. For instance, an FCE can be used to evaluate the value of an injured worker’s case. It follows then that an FCE can be used as a tool to settle a case. An FCE may further indicate that an injured worker cannot in any capacity return to his or her previous job because of a total inability to perform previous job tasks. Thus, an FCE may be used to determine what, if any, other jobs the injured worker will be able to perform. As it follows, the FCE then may be used together with vocational rehabilitation, which is another method to help the injured worker find a brand new job.

What to Expect at an FCE

As an initial matter, there are numerous types of FCEs. Also, there are a variety of ways in which they are performed. However, all FCEs should have several things in common. The testing should be comprised of the physical demands that the worker was exposed to at his or her pre-accident job. The testing should be reasonable as to the space in which it is performed and also reasonable as to length and time. For instance, an average FCE may last between 4-6 hours. An FCE is an objective test, meaning the evaluator compares an employee’s numerical values with a set of averaged, benchmark values. A well-designed FCE will exclude any bias that the evaluator may have toward the injured worker. Finally, a well-planned FCE will be administered with the injured employee in mind. The evaluator, when administering the test, will be cautious as to not further injure the employee.


The evaluator could be an occupational therapist, physical therapist, exercise physiologist, athletic trainer, or anyone with specific certification in the administration of FCEs. These individuals should have the skills needed to critically observe the physical and mental capacities of an injured employee.

An FCE usually starts with a comprehensive review of the injured employee’s medical records. Then, the FCE is designed and tailored to the specific individual; however, certain generalized tests will still be incorporated into the evaluation. First, an FCE’s physical test portion may contain generalized strength testing. These tests can include activities such as lifting, walking while carrying something, pull strength, and push strength testing. Second, these tests include normal work activity which generally consists of some type of physical activity. This would include sitting, normal walking, and bending. The evaluator will record, for instance, how long an injured person can walk, bend, stoop, or sit. Also, the evaluator will note any limitations the injured employee has in any of these activities.

After testing is complete, an FCE report is produced. The FCE will include all information that was observed and recorded on the testing day including what tests were administered, a summary of physical abilities, and numerical results. The report should also contain information about the effort the injured employee put forth, the types of job tasks the injured employee can perform, any limitations in job activities, and the evaluator’s recommendations.

Choosing an Attorney

Plain and simple, if you have the type of job related injury where a FCE has been ordered, you need an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer in your corner. The difference between a good and bad attorney could literally be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you would like our help in finding the right law firm for you, please contact us at (800) 517-1614. We will speak with you for free and do whatever we can to help you. All calls are free and confidential.