In Functional Capacity Evaluation, Return to Work, Workers’ Compensation

by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm

A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) is set of tests, practices and observations that are combined to determine the ability of the evaluated person to function in a variety of circumstances, most often employment, in an objective manner. Previously, I wrote about FCEs and how to prepare for one.  In this blog, I want to explain a little more about FCEs, specifically what the results mean.

An FCE can be used to determine fitness to work following an extended period of medical leave. If an employee is unable to return to work, the FCE provides information on prognosis, and occupational rehabilitation measures that may be possible. An FCE can also be used to help identify changes to employee workload, or modifications to working conditions such as ergonomic measures, that the employer may be able to undertake in an effort to accommodate an employee with a disability or medical condition. FCEs are needed to determine if an employee is able to resume working in a capacity “commensurate with his or her skills or abilities”*

During most FCEs, the following measurements are also taken:

Lifting power

Push and pull power

How long one can stand or walk

Flexibility and reaching

Grasping and holding capabilities

Bending capabilities

Balance capabilities

The following are descriptions of the five terms in which the Strength Factor is expressed:**

S-Sedentary Work – Exerting up to 10 pounds of force occasionally (Occasionally: activity or condition exists up to 1/3 of the time) and/or a negligible amount of force frequently (Frequently: activity or condition exists from 1/3 to 2/3 of the time) to lift, carry, push, pull, or otherwise move objects, including the human body. Sedentary work involves sitting most of the time, but may involve walking or standing for brief periods of time. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required only occasionally and all other sedentary criteria are met.

L-Light Work – Exerting up to 20 pounds of force occasionally, and/or up to 10 pounds of force frequently, and/or a negligible amount of force constantly (Constantly: activity or condition exists 2/3 or more of the time) to move objects. Physical demand requirements are in excess of those for Sedentary Work. Even though the weight lifted may be only a negligible amount, a job should be rated Light Work: (1) when it requires walking or standing to a significant degree; or (2) when it requires sitting most of the time but entails pushing and/or pulling of arm or leg controls; and/or (3) when the job requires working at a production rate pace entailing the constant pushing and/or pulling of materials even though the weight of those materials is negligible. NOTE: The constant stress and strain of maintaining a production rate pace, especially in an industrial setting, can be and is physically demanding of a worker even though the amount of force exerted is negligible.

M-Medium Work – Exerting 20 to 50 pounds of force occasionally, and/or 10 to 25 pounds of force frequently, and/or greater than negligible up to 10 pounds of force constantly to move objects. Physical Demand requirements are in excess of those for Light Work.

H-Heavy Work – Exerting 50 to 100 pounds of force occasionally, and/or 25 to 50 pounds of force frequently, and/or 10 to 20 pounds of force constantly to move objects. Physical Demand requirements are in excess of those for Medium Work.

V-Very Heavy Work – Exerting in excess of 100 pounds of force occasionally, and/or in excess of 50 pounds of force frequently, and/or in excess of 20 pounds of force constantly to move objects. Physical Demand requirements are in excess of those for Heavy Work.

While this information addresses “norms” after testing , in the real world, what we really care about is lifting, pushing and pulling. They may be useful in attempting to predict or demonstrate a patient’s “pre-injury” strength. These tables can assist employers in designing safe worksites, and when reviewing FCEs, you will be able to spot unreasonable recommendations.

For additional information on FCEs, watch this video with Dave Bledsoe of Bledsoe Occupational Therapy who explains  what a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) is, why they are performed and the impact they have on Alabama workers’ compensation claims.

If you have any questions or concerns about this issue or other issues on the law, please call the Nomberg Law Firm at 205-930-6900.

Bernard D. Nomberg has practiced workers’ compensation law in Alabama for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating.  He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Rated Attorney by B-Metro Magazine. Bernard is the Chair of the Alabama State Bar’s Workers’ Compensation Section.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functional_capacity_evaluation

**https://occupationalinfo.org/appendxc_1.html

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