Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) Guide in Workers Compensation


When you have reached maximum medical improvement for your work injury and healed as well as you’re going to, it’s important to determine whether you’re capable of returning to work. And if so, what type of work you may be capable of performing without risking additional injury or harm. A workers’ compensation functional capacity evaluation (FCE) can address these issues and help your workers’ compensation attorney evaluate the fair value of a workers’ compensation settlement in your case.


This article explains the role of the functional capacity evaluation in workers’ compensation. If you have been referred for a FCE or recently received the results of your functional capacity evaluation, contact attorney Corey Pollard for a free strategy session. We represent disabled workers throughout Virginia, including Richmond, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Fredericksburg, Roanoke, Fairfax, and Prince William County.


What is a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE)?


A functional capacity evaluation is a medical assessment of an injured worker’s safe functional tolerances and physical limitations related to work activities and tasks. In other words, a FCE is a series of tests to evaluate your work-related physical capabilities. An FCE test may take anywhere from 4 hours to 2 days to complete.


Functional testing is considered more objective and accurate than the use of light duty restrictions issued by treating physicians. The series of tests should evaluate your:


  • Physical strength
  • Lifting abilities
  • Postural abilities
  • Flexibility
  • Range of motion
  • Ability to sit, stand, and walk for extended periods
  • Ability to use your hands for gross and fine manipulation
  • Anything else useful in determining your work abilities


The physical therapist conducting your functional capacity evaluation should provide the following information to your treating physician:


  • Your functional abilities
  • Permanent impairment rating (also known as the disability evaluation)
  • What job demands you are capable of performing
  • When you may be able to return to work
  • Whether you have the ability to return to the job you had prior to your work injury
  • What your abilities are outside of your past work
  • What type of rehabilitation is necessary
  • Whether additional medical treatment is necessary


The quality of the FCE is dependent in large part on the qualifications, skill, and training of the FCE examiner.


Over the course of representing hundreds of injured workers in workers’ comp cases we have noticed trends among certain FCE examiners. Many of the examiners who receive frequent referrals from workers’ compensation insurance companies almost always state that the injured worker is exaggerating his or her pain or not giving full effort. As discussed below, there are ways to deal with this type of report.


Types of Functional Capacity Evaluations in Workers’ Compensation


There are two types of FCEs, the General Purpose FCE and the Job Specific FCE.


The General Purpose FCE is often used when it is obvious that an injured employee is unable to return to his or her pre-injury work or when the employer no longer has a position open for the injured employee. The General Purpose FCE is used to determine your overall physical abilities and to determine what type of jobs you’re capable of doing if they become available.


The Job Specific FCE measures an injured employee’s ability to perform the physical demands of a specific job, usually the pre-injury job. The Job Specific FCE determines whether you can return to your pre-injury work and, if not, what modifications and accommodations you’ll require.


Regardless of the type of workers’ compensation FCE you undergo, the physical therapist should review your medical records and reports prior to the evaluation. Your attorney should send a copy of supportive doctor questionnaires or reports to the examiner before your appointment.


The FCE examiner will establish a baseline for you based on your pre-injury job demands. The job demands are classified using the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Selected Characteristics of Occupations as Defined in the Revised Dictionary of Occupational Titles,” which uses the following classifications:


1. Sedentary – lifting up to 10 pounds occasionally

2. Light – lifting up to 20 pounds occasionally or 10 pounds frequently

3. Medium – lifting 20 to 50 pounds occasionally or 10 to 25 pounds frequently

4. Heavy – lifting 50 to 100 pounds occasionally or 25 to 50 pounds frequently

5. Very Heavy – lifting more than 100 pounds occasionally or more than 50 pounds frequently


The workers’ comp FCE will also determine your tolerance level during an eight hour work day (never, occasionally, frequently, constantly) for the following activities:


  • Balancing
  • Crouching
  • Fingering
  • Lifting
  • Pulling
  • Standing
  • Carrying
  • Far vision
  • Handling
  • Manual dexterity
  • Pushing
  • Stooping
  • Climbing
  • Crawling
  • Feeling
  • Finger dexterity
  • Hearing
  • Kneeling
  • Motor coordination
  • Near vision
  • Reaching
  • Sitting
  • Walking
  • Talking


The FCE examiner is responsible for making sure the tests are appropriate and conducted safely. While you’re performing the tests the physical therapist in charge of your functional capacity evaluation may take pictures and write down notes regarding your musculoskeletal condition.


Who Orders the FCE in Workers’ Compensation?


An attorney, physician, employer, or workers’ compensation insurance carrier may order a functional capacity evaluation.


When your treating physician is unsure of your physical capabilities, he or she may refer you to a physical therapist who specializes in FCEs. The physical therapist can give an objective opinion of your ability to do work.


Usually, however, it is the workers’ compensation insurance carrier that asks the injured employee to attend a FCE. This is done when the insurance carrier is unable to convince the treating physician to release you back to work. The FCE may be used to try to convince the doctor to ease your work restrictions.


If your treating physician has restricted you from full duty work and you are under an award for temporary total disability benefits, there is no reason for your attorney to have you attend a FCE. This is because your attorney can speak with your treating physician to determine your prognosis and future medical treatment and use that information, along with your treating doctor’s estimate regarding your work limitations and your permanent partial disability rating to determine the appropriate settlement value of your case. The only time your attorney may send you for a functional capacity evaluation is if you have attended a FCE at the insurance company’s request and that FCE finds you either gave poor effort or releases you back to work.


What Do I Do if I’m Scheduled for a Functional Capacity Evaluation for My Workers’ Compensation Claim?


If you receive notice that you’ve been scheduled for a FCE, contact an attorney right away. Your attorney can discuss how the FCE fits into your case overall and what to expect from the FCE examiner.


You must attend the FCE since it is considered appropriate vocational rehabilitation under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act.


Here are some general tips to prepare for your FCE:


  • Arrange transportation. If the employer or insurance company want you to attend a FCE, then they must provide transportation under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act.


  • Dress comfortably. You will be performing physical activities, so make sure you dress comfortably. Wear athletic shorts or pants and tennis shoes. Do not wear a suit and tie.


  • Bring water. A FCE can last for several hours. Bring water so that you remain hydrated.


  • Give your best effort, but don’t overdo it. The FCE is designed to measure what you’re capable of doing over a 40 hour work week. If you’re in pain, speak up and tell the FCE examiner.


  • Don’t take your pain medication before the FCE. We understand that this may be uncomfortable, but some pain medications can hide your pain – which provides an inaccurate measurement of your true abilities that overstates what you’re capable of doing.


  • Always act as though you’re being watched. From the moment you pull in the parking lot to the moment you leave the parking lot, the FCE examiner may be watching you to see if you’re telling the truth and giving an honest effort.


An Experienced Attorney to Guide You through the Workers’ Compensation FCE


Many doctors, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and pain management doctors rely on functional capacity evaluations to help them determine an injured employee’s ability to return to work and whether the employee can return to his or her pre-injury work. This means that many of you will undergo a FCE as part of your workers’ compensation claim.


The FCE is just part of the workers’ compensation puzzle. After the FCE, the physical therapist will send a report to you, your attorney, and your doctor. Your doctor can either sign off on the recommendations in the FCE report or refuse to sign off on the findings.


It’s important that you discuss the restrictions in the FCE with your attorney so that you understand what you’re found capable of doing in the workplace.


If the FCE findings are not supportive, it’s important that you and your attorney discuss the FCE report with your doctor and explain why they are incorrect. If your doctor refuses to sign the FCE then you may continue to receive wage replacement benefits. We are often able to explain to treating physicians that the functional capacity evaluation, which is based on four to twelve hours of testing, gives just a snapshot and not a full picture of the problems the injured worker would have over a 40-hour work week.


But if your doctor agrees with the unsupportive FCE findings, then the insurance carrier may file an Employer’s Application for Hearing to stop your benefits. Though your attorney may be able to defeat the employer’s application to suspend benefits, it could take months to resolve and require a workers’ compensation hearing.


Call, text, or email Corey Pollard today to help you prepare for the FCE and to deal with the FCE report. We’ve negotiated many high-dollar settlements after our client has participated in a functional capacity evaluation. And we want to help you and your family get everything you’re owed under Virginia workers’ compensation. There is no fee unless we recover benefits on your behalf. So you have nothing to lose!