What is a Functional Capacity Evaluation?

Functional capacity evaluations, functional assessments and functional abilities evaluations are all different names for the same thing: a series of tests and observations used to estimate your ability to function at work. For simplicity I will just refer to them collectively as functional capacity evaluations.

Functional capacity evaluations (FCE’s) usually take place over one or two days and are administered by a health professional (usually an occupational therapist, physiotherapist or kinesologist). The testing usually will take the entire day (for a one-day FCE) or a day and half (for a two-day FCE).

Why do insurance companies use functional capacity evaluations?

If you have a permanent disability, insurance companies will rely on functional capacity evaluations to determine you ability to return to work in some capacity. This could be to your normal job or type of work or in some other type of work that is better suited to your abilities.

After examining you for an FCE the person doing the assessment will produce a report in which he or she will give opinions on your assessed physical abilities.

What information is in the functional capacity evaluation report?

The FCE report will attempt to set out the limits of your physical abilities. For example, the amount of weight you can lift, how frequently you can do physical activity, the length of time you can sit, stand, walk, etc.

The person doing the assessment will usually give an opinion on the level of physical work you can do. This is based a spectrum of job classifications ranging from sedentary to heavy physical demands (i.e.:  sedentary, light, medium, heavy). He or she will then compare your assessed ability with the requirements of your job or type of work. The goal is to see if there is a match between your assessed physical abilities and the known physical demands of your job or type of work. This simply answers the question: Can you do your job on a regular basis?

The person will also give opinions on your demonstrated level of effort. This is very important. If the person who assesses you says you gave “less than full effort” during the testing, then your insurance company will interpret this to mean you were trying to appear more disabled than you really are (even though there may be other honest explanations for these findings).

Are FCE’s a valid measure of my ability to work?

There is much criticism of the validity of functional capacity evaluations — to what extent to they really measure a person’s ability (or inability) to work. This criticism usually comes from physicians, especially when the results of the assessment don’t fit with their view of the patient’s level of disability. Despite these criticisms, functional capacity evaluations are widely viewed as one of most reliable and objective way to measure a person’s physical abilities, particularly in the context of ability to work.

Functional capacity evaluations are relied upon by insurance companies, but also by lawyers who represent people in claims for injury compensation or disability benefits. For example, I regularly hire occupational therapists to perform functional capacity evaluations on my clients in both vehicle accident cases and disability benefits cases.