What Is A Functional Capacity Evaluation?

By Rebecca Batisto

What Is A Functional Capacity Evaluation?

If an employee suffers an injury at work and subsequently takes time away to heal, how do you know when that employee is cleared to come back to work? Who has the final say?

It can be tricky to balance all the parties involved. Of course, the employee’s health and safety are paramount, but the employer and insurance company also have a stake in the outcome. Thankfully, there is a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) designed to assess an injured employee’s ability to do the job they were hired to do.

An FCE is designed to evaluate a worker’s ability to safely participate in work, taking into account the demands of their job. The FCE compares the employee’s health and physical functions to the job they were doing before the injury. A well-designed test may also consist of cognitive and emotional functions, if relevant to the job and necessary for the employee’s well-being.

Who Needs an FCE?

Most employees want to return to work as soon as possible following an injury and successful rehabilitation and recovery. However, employers are not always equipped to evaluate if the worker can come back to their previous job or an alternate position. This is an excellent argument for an FCE to be conducted by an approved third-party evaluator. The results of the FCE will not only let the employer know if the worker can return to their previous job but also if there are any limitations or if the person now requires a different position at the company. This is true for paid/employee work as well as volunteer/intern work done on behalf of the employer.

Other situations in which an FCE is appropriate can include: ● The injured employee is applying for Social Security Disability benefits. ● The injured employee is seeking vocational rehabilitation services. ● A student is transitioning from school to work and their abilities need to be assessed. ● A person injured away from work (i.e., auto accident) and needs to be evaluated to determine if they can return to their former position.

What Happens At An FCE?

An occupational therapist will conduct the FCE, as they have unique knowledge and skills to compare a person’s abilities with those required by their job.

An evaluation may take four to six hours, and include activities to simulate material handling (lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying), positional tolerance (squatting, kneeling, walking, reaching, bending, sitting, standing, crawling, balance, etc.), and objective measurements for injured body parts (range of motion, muscle strength, circumferential measurements for swelling, etc.). Some evaluations take place over multiple days, depending on the activities assessed.

FCEs are paid for by workers’ compensation plans, individual plans, managed care plans, or state/federal/local agencies. Rates can vary based on the extent of evaluation, time, and geography; and preapproval is required. Make sure your company’s insurance coverage takes into account FCEs for its employees.

What Can Employees Expect?

Workers asked to complete an FCE by their employer need to understand that it is for their safety, and therefore should cooperate fully. Here are some other things for employees to consider:

Remember, the physical evaluation is only one part of clearing an employee to return to their previous job. The FCE may determine if an employee can return to their job, or if they need to be placed into a different role. The FCE may also need to include a cognitive aspect that is assessed with a different provider, or if more information is required.

In the event that an employee cannot return to their previous role, the occupational therapist’s results will help determine what level of physical activity the employee can perform or if more healing is required. If the employee’s limitations are permanent, the company may need to find an alternative role for the employee.

If you have questions about FCEs or other aspects of workers’ compensation coverage, Normandy Insurance can help! Our agents are well-versed in all aspects of workers’ compensation insurance - including getting your injured workers back to work safely.

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