Q: I have to take an FCE. What is it and why do I have to take it?
Donna, Killen, AL
A: FCE stands for Functional Capacity Evaluation. They are physical tests that measure a person’s functional capacity in a way that is used and understood by people who do vocational analysis.
The Social Security Administrations uses vocational experts to determine what jobs in the national economy a person could do if they have certain physical limitations due to an accident, injury, or illness.
All jobs have some mental and physical requirements. Jobs are classified into four main categories of physical demand beginning with sedentary which is 10 pounds or less and then light, 20 pounds, medium, 50 pounds, and heavy which requires lifting 100 pounds or more.
This does not address the skill level or educational requirements of a job.
In workers compensation, if a worker through injury can not perform the physical demands of their job or if there is a question about that, a doctor will order an FCE. An FCE will measure the ability to lift, carry, bend, squat, stoop, and kneel. The FCE will address reaching overhead. It will address pushing and pulling with the arms as well as balance. The FCE is the measures a person’s physical functional capacity over an 8-hour workday and 40-hour week.
Because FCEs are almost always ordered by the employer, the examiner who tests the injured worker is almost always conservative and the person administering the test looks for inconsistent effort. There are a number of tests that look for symptom exaggeration. There are scales that provide a reliability profile. They check the heart rate and the grip strength from hand to hand. At least half of the test is dedicated to proving that the injured worker did not give their best effort.
I always tell my clients to give good effort but not so much that they could not come back and repeat the test the next day. A lot of people could pull a loved one out of a burning building, but few people could do the work of being a fireman. This test is looking for consistency over a 40-hour week.
A vocational specialist will take into consideration the age, education, training, and experience of an injured worker and use their functional capacity evaluation to determine the amount of loss they have sustained. This loss is often stated in terms of reduced wages and a loss of the number of jobs available to a worker with impaired physical function.
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