If you are injured or become ill as a result of your work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits are available to employees who suffered a job-related injury or illness. In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, employers are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees.
Workers’ comp is a no-fault system, which means that you do not have to prove that your employer was negligent in order to receive benefits. Even so, employers (through their insurance companies) often dispute coverage. This can leave hard-working people without the medical treatment, disability payments, and other benefits that they need.
As part of a workers’ comp case, you may be required to take a Functional Capacity Evaluation or Exam (“FCE”). Depending on your situation, this type of test can either hurt or help your claim. Read on to learn more about FCEs from an experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney.
What Is a Functional Capacity Exam?
A functional capacity exam is an assessment of whether you can work or return to work. It involves a series of standardized physical tests that are typically administered by a physical or occupational therapist. These tests are designed to evaluate your physical abilities as they relate to work.
Functional capacity exams may be used to make an initial determination about how an illness or injury affects your ability to work. Later, the FCE can be used to analyze whether you are able to return to work, and in what capacity. It may be ordered by your attorney or by the workers’ comp insurance company.
While each test is tailored to an individual’s injury and job duties, the tests that are performed will evaluate a worker’s abilities in a number of areas. This may include:
- Ability to carry objects
- Physical strength
- Ability to lift objects
- Range of motion
- Other abilities required for a given job
Through these tests, the exam will determine how an employee’s current abilities relate to their job.
For example, if a warehouse worker is required to repeatedly lift and carry heavy objects throughout the day, a work-related back injury may prevent them from doing that. FCE may specifically focus on the employee’s lifting and carrying abilities. If the FCE reveals that the worker still is limited in their ability to lift and carry, then they will probably not be able to return to the job (at least at the same position).
This type of exam can be used to support your workers’ compensation claim. Your attorney may request an FCE to demonstrate that you are not able to work or to return to work, or to show that you can only work in a limited capacity. However, an insurance company may also request an FCE to support a claim denial or to dispute the opinion of your treating physician about your ability to work.
In some workers’ comp cases, the insurance company will use surveillance in an attempt to prove that you are faking your disability. In these situations, the insurer may request an FCE to support this claim. For example, a workers’ comp investigator may have video evidence of you carrying groceries into your house, even though your doctor has ordered you to not lift or carry anything over a certain weight. FCE could be used to demonstrate that you are capable of lifting and carrying heavy objects — and then be used in conjunction with the video evidence as a basis for denying your claim.
What to Expect at a Functional Capacity Exam
You may be asked to attend a functional capacity exam if you suffer from certain conditions, particularly those related to physical movement. FCEs are not generally capable of evaluating disabilities related to mental health, hearing impairments, or vision issues.
A trained medical professional, such as a doctor who specializes in rehabilitation or a physical or occupational therapist, will perform the exam. The FCE may be scheduled over the course of two days or limited to one day. A two-day FCE may be useful to show that your ability to function decreases with sustained activity, demonstrating that you cannot work a typical schedule.
When you arrive at the evaluation, the examiner will typically be aware of your job, the duties that you are required to perform at work, your diagnosis, and past and ongoing medical treatment. Because the tests involve physical activity, you should dress in comfortable clothing. You should also bring any medications that you are currently taking as well as assistive devices like a cane, brace, or crutches.
The examiner will conduct a variety of tests that are designed to measure your balance, level of fatigue, physical strength, ability to tolerate sitting and standing, range of motion, ability to walk, ability to lift and carry, and your ability to perform both fine and gross motor skills. You will be asked to perform these tests using machines, tools, and specific motions. If you are scheduled for a two-day test, you will be asked to repeat many of these tests on the second day.
If you get tired or experience a worsening of symptoms during the tests, you should tell the examiner. If you cannot perform or finish a test, you should tell the examiner this as well. This information will be incorporated into the final report of the FCE.
Throughout the test, the examiner will observe your movements and any signs of pain or fatigue. These observations will be recorded as part of a report, which will then be used as part of your workers’ comp case.
Injured at Work? Contact Our Firm Today
Functional capacity exams are often an important part of a workers’ compensation case. A New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney can help you determine if it would be beneficial to your case to schedule an FCE and even recommend the type of tests that should be performed at the evaluation. After the report is issued, your lawyer will review and interpret it to bolster your claim for benefits.
The attorneys of Bross & Frankel are well-versed in all aspects of workers’ compensation cases, including the use of FCEs. If you have been hurt at work, we can help you build a strong case for benefits. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation, contact our office today at 856-795-8880, or reach out online.
Rich Frankel is the managing partner of Bross & Frankel. He is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars. He has focused exclusively on disability and social security benefits since 2005.
Mr. Frankel joined what is now Bross & Frankel after having watched his father struggle with disability, fighting a lengthy illness. Mr. Frankel founded the firm’s veteran’s law practice and substantially grew the social security disability practice, focusing Bross & Frankel’s ability to fight for all of the disability benefits available to his clients.
Mr. Frankel additionally fights for clients in court, obtaining frequent victories in Social Security appeals and against insurance companies in Federal court.