Information About The Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE)

May 7, 2021 | Ed Bernstein
Information About The Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE)

doctor telling patient his FCE test results

What is the Definition of Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE)?

Thousands of Nevada workers sustain on-the-job injuries every year. Construction and mining are two of Nevada’s biggest industries. They also produce some of the highest rates of injury among their workers. However, Las Vegas employees can get injured in every job, including “safe” jobs. Retail workers injure their backs lifting boxes. Stagehands fall from ladders and scaffolding. Casino workers slip on spilled drinks. Culinary workers suffer cuts and burns. When you file a workers’ compensation claim, your ability to perform work tasks will determine the benefits you receive and how long the insurer pays for those benefits. Although a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) will not happen in every case, it can provide valuable information to you, your workers’ comp lawyer, and your employer’s insurer.

What is an FCE Test:  Definition of a Functional Capacity Evaluation

As its name suggests, a functional capacity evaluation tests your ability to do physical tasks that you might be required to perform at work. A physical therapist, chiropractor, or another healthcare provider will typically administer the test.

Performing the Functional Capacity Evaluation

During the test, you will try to perform several tasks. The administrator will record your ability to complete the tasks. If you cannot perform a task or you experience pain or fatigue while performing a task, you will inform the test administrator. Some of the tasks included on a functional capacity evaluation workers’ compensation test could include:
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Lifting
  • Sitting
  • Reaching
  • Gripping
  • Carrying
  • Climbing
  • Bending
  • Twisting
Depending on your occupation and your injuries, the test administrator might ask you to type or perform other fine motor skills required by your job.

Preparing for the Evaluation

Before it starts, you should refrain from taking any pain medication. The test evaluates your physical condition in your normal, unmedicated state. You should dress appropriately for physical activity. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes you would wear for exercise or work. As you go through the evaluation, provide honest feedback to the evaluator. Tell the person administering the test when:
  • You feel pain
  • You get fatigued
  • Your range of motion is limited
Do not exaggerate your pain, fatigue, or physical limitations. If your FCE results do not match up with your medical records, the test will be deemed invalid and you might lose credibility and benefits.

The Outcome

The test does not produce a “pass” or “fail.” Instead, the evaluation will include several observations and measurements. For example, it might describe the angle of your arm’s range of motion and the amount of weight you can lift. It will include notes about the feedback you provided. Thus, the FCE could say that you experienced pain after lifting 30 pounds three times. It could also include the evaluator’s observations. This is where the evaluator could say that you appeared to exaggerate your pain or inability to perform certain tasks.

When You Need It

nurse performing a functional capacity evaluationAn evaluation demonstrates where you stand in the recovery from your work-related injury. By performing the test a few times, a functional capacity evaluation can show improvement or lack of improvement in your physical condition.   A physical therapist, doctor, or chiropractor might conduct this review before you begin treatment. After several sessions, the healthcare provider might conduct another evaluation to determine how your injuries have healed. Your healthcare provider might also order an FCE near the end of your treatment to determine whether to discharge you or whether you are able to return to your post-injury job.

How FCE Relates to Workers’ Compensation

You might run into a few situations where you, your doctor, and your workers’ compensation lawyer believe that an FCE will help your case. Your employer or its workers’ compensation insurer might also use it to cut off benefits or force you to return to work prematurely.

How You Can Use The Results

If the workers’ comp insurer threatens to reduce or terminate your benefits, a functional capacity evaluation might prove that you are still unable to work. You can also use it to show your employer that you cannot return to your normal duties and must remain on light duty.

How Your Employer and Its Insurer Can Use It

The workers’ comp insurer can also try to use this evaluation to cut off benefits. An insurer can order a functional capacity evaluation workers’ compensation test to show that your condition has improved enough that you do not require any more treatment or therapy. Employers also use FCEs to show that you can perform more work tasks than you claim and that you can return to normal work

How It Can Establish Permanent Disability

An FCE can support a finding that you have a permanent partial disability or permanent total disability as a result of your work injuries. Workers’ compensation law uses a concept called maximum medical improvement (MMI). When doctors reasonably believe your physical condition will not improve with additional treatment or therapy, you have reached MMI. workers compensation claim form after functional capacity evaluation The workers’ compensation insurer can send you to a disability rater once you have reached MMI. The disability rater will assign you a permanent disability rating. For example, you might receive a 20% disability rating for permanent loss of sensation and strength in your left hand and arm. This has benefits and drawbacks. The benefit of a permanent disability is that you become eligible for a permanent disability benefit based on your disability rating. The insurer may offer to pay the benefit in a lump sum amount to close the case. The drawback of a permanent disability is that the workers’ comp insurer will stop paying for treatment and therapy. If you think your condition can improve, you will need to fight the findings of the evaluation or pay for further treatment on your own.

Challenging an FCE

The functional capacity evaluation workers’ compensation report can change the course of your workers’ comp claim. After, you can discuss the results with a workers’ comp lawyer and prepare to challenge the outcome. When your employer and its insurer order the review, they will choose an evaluator who produces employer-friendly results. You can usually retake an FCE with a more objective evaluator to challenge the results of the first test. You can also challenge the use of the results by the workers’ comp insurer. If you think the insurer has misused, misinterpreted, or misapplied the FCE, you may request a hearing before a workers’ comp hearing officer. At Edward M. Berstein & Associates, we know how to use the FCE to fight for your rights. Contact us to find out how we can help with questions about the functional capacity evaluation and how it applies to your worker’s compensation case.


Ed Bernstein

Edward M. Bernstein, Esq. is the owner and founding partner of Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, and one of the most recognizable figures in Nevada. Ed is one of state’s premier personal injury attorneys and has hosted The Ed Bernstein Show for over 31 years. He has served the Las Vegas community for decades with dozens of community appointments and terms of service. In the year 2000, he was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

Ed received his B.A. from Long Island University in 1971 and his J.D. from Widener University in 1975. Since then, Ed’s professional accolades include numerous publications, honors and awards, court appointments, and has been named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.