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 ability to function in a way that is used and understood by those performing professional analysis.
The Social Security Agency uses professional experts to determine what jobs in the 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 demands. Jobs are divided into four main categories of physical stress, starting with sedentary lifestyle – 10 pounds or less – and then light 20 pounds, medium 50 pounds, and heavy that require lifting 100 pounds or more.
This does not match the skill level or educational requirements of a job.
For employee compensation, a doctor will order an FCE if an injured worker is unable to meet the physical demands of his job or if there is a question about it. An FCE measures the ability to lift, carry, bend, squat, stoop, and kneel. The FCE will deal with reaching the overhead. It will address pushing and pulling with the arms as well as balance. The FCE is the measure of a person’s physical functionality over an 8-hour working day and a 40-hour week.
Because FCEs are almost always mandated by the employer, the examiner testing the injured worker is almost always conservative and the person doing the test looks for inconsistent efforts. There are a number of tests that look for symptom exaggeration. There are scales that provide a reliability profile. You check your heart rate and grip strength from hand to hand. At least half of the test is dedicated to proving that the injured worker did not do his or her best.
I always urge my clients to make a good effort, but not so much that they can’t come back and repeat the test the next day. Many people could pull a loved one out of a burning building, but few could do the job of a firefighter. This test looks for consistency over a 40 hour week.
A career specialist takes into account the age, education, training, and experience of an injured worker and uses his or her ability to work to determine the level of loss suffered. This loss is often expressed in terms of wage reductions and a loss in the number of jobs available to an employee with impaired physical function.
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