Functional Capacity Evaluations: What Are They And What Are My Rights?

October 19 2022

If you have been injured in an accident, you may have spent some time off work to heal and recover from your injuries. At some point along your healing journey, your employer and/or your insurer may begin to contemplate your return to work. They may want to know how well you have healed and what kinds of tasks you may or may not be able to resume.  

To assess your condition, they may ask you to attend an examination known as a residual employability assessment or Functional Capacity Evaluation (“FCE”). 

An FCE may be part of plans for a gradual return to work. For more information on that topic, see our recent posts:

What is a Functional Capacity Evaluation? 

An FCE is a series of objective tests and observations designed to evaluate your physical ability to function in various activities, positions, and tasks that you might encounter during a typical day. It is important to keep in mind that the tests will provide an objective (not subjective) measure of your current abilities.  

Once all of the tests are completed, the results will be assessed to figure out if you can return to your previous job or if you can perform some other type of job. In addition, the final report can be used to help demonstrate what activities you can safely perform post-accident. The results of the FCE tests should determine: 

  • Your ability to perform activities of daily living;  
  • Your ability to safely return to your job on a full-time or part-time basis and on regular or modified duties; 
  • Whether you need work restrictions, task modifications, or reasonable workplace accommodations to prevent further injury; and 
  • Whether your impairments will limit your ability to earn a regular income. 

Who Conducts an FCE? 

FCEs are performed by trained medical professionals – usually someone like a kinesiologist, physiotherapist, or occupational therapist. The particular specialist selected may vary depending on your injury and the tasks normally involved in your job. For example, for some people with cognitive impairments, the FCE may include neuropsychological testing performed by a qualified neuropsychologist.  

What Should I Expect During an FCE? 

An FCE is a one-on-one examination. These tests can take several hours and may even be performed over two consecutive days. 

Typically, the first part of an FCE is an interview. The evaluator will look at your medical records and ask a series of questions about your health, your injury, and your workplace and job tasks. Once the interview is complete, the evaluator will administer a series of tests. The tests are designed to simulate the skills you need to complete normal activities of daily living and the skills required for your job. The FCE will show your capabilities as well as your impairments.  

Many tests are administered during an FCE; each test has a different purpose that will measure your ability to perform certain activities. Some of the tests may include: 

  • Material handling (lifting, pushing, pulling, and carrying); 
  • Positional tolerance (squatting, kneeling, walking, reaching, bending, sitting, standing, crawling, and balance); 
  • Objective measurements (range of motion and muscle strength); 
  • Cognitive screening (memory, attention, processing, and multi-tasking); and 
  • Functional pain assessment (an evaluation of your pain levels while performing the various activities that will likely involve some form of self-reporting by the injured person). 

As a critical component of the FCE, evaluators will perform screening procedures to identify your effort levels. The evaluator will check if you put forth maximum effort during the tests and evaluate whether the different parts of the test were consistent with your feelings at the time: essentially, did your subjective complaints of pain match up with your performance on the physical tests? 

The evaluator will be assessing the data to ensure that the test results of the FCE are a reliable indicator of your ability to work. It is important to keep in mind that the FCE may not accurately show what you are truly capable of. It is simply a brief snapshot in time as to how you were feeling on that particular day, at that particular time: it is not the same as an actual day spent in the workplace.  

Is an FCE Mandatory? 

If you are asked to attend an FCE, you are most likely required to go. The FCE could be requested by your lawyer, the other party’s lawyer, your employer, your insurer, or some other benefits provider, such as workers’ compensation.  

During the FCE, you must put forth your best effort on the various tests. However, the FCE should not injure you, and you do not have to do anything that your health care providers have advised you not to do. If something is causing you pain, tell the evaluator – this is not the time to tough it out. Make a note of how you feel, including your pain levels, during and after the FCE and tell the evaluator and your lawyer. Your health and safety are of primary concern; you can stop the FCE at any time if it feels like it is too much for you. 

Is it Possible to “Fail” an FCE? 

An FCE is not a pass/fail test. It is simply an evaluation tool that can help you, your employer or your insurer to understand where you are at in your recovery. Based on the evaluation results, decisions can be made about when and how best to transition back into the workplace. Your insurance company may also use the results to determine whether you are still entitled to receive benefits. 

The FCE may also help to determine whether further improvement in your condition might be expected or whether it has plateaued. The reality is that for some injured people, a full return to their prior state of health will not be possible. If the evaluator thinks that you have more recovering to do, they may recommend further measures that can help with that process. Alternatively, they may determine that additional treatment is not likely to make a difference in your condition and abilities.   

Can My Lawyer Help? 

It is a good idea to tell your lawyer that you have been asked to attend an FCE. Your lawyer can assist with any negotiations that may need to occur concerning the logistics or parameters of the examination and can help you understand why the FCE has been requested. After the FCE, your lawyer can also help you navigate whatever next steps your employer or insurer may want to take in light of the FCE results.   

What Happens After the FCE? 

After the FCE has been completed, the evaluator will prepare a detailed report on the outcomes of the tests. This report will typically contain the objective results of the tests, an analysis of the effort put forth by the injured person during the tests, and recommendations as to what types of work and activities the person can do. The report is confidential and will be sent to the party who referred you to the FCE. Your lawyer will also receive a copy.  

If you have been injured and referred for an FCE or have questions about the process, contact us for a free consultation.