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Functional Capacity Exams (FCE’s) in North Carolina and Virginia Workers’ Compensation

A Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) is oftentimes performed in both Virginia and North Carolina Workers’ Compensation cases. It is typical performed once the injured worker has reached MMI (maximum medical improvement) as determined by his or her authorized treating physician.

The purpose of the FCE test is to determine the severity of a physical impairment. It is used to evaluate the extent of the impairment, the likelihood of the success of future treatments, and mostly the ability of the worker to do his or her job. The test is usually performed by an occupational or other physical therapist – someone who understands how impairments impact various occupations. It usually lasts several hours, and sometimes even takes two office visits to complete.

Attorney Joe Miller has been advising injured workers for over a quarter century. Part and parcel of this advice is explaining some procedures such as functional capacity exams (FCEs) that are done for evaluation purposes only. He helps the client prepare for the exam by informing the worker what to expect and how to prepare for the exam ahead of time. It is his attention to all the little details and his strong advocacy that has enabled him to help thousands of injured workers obtain significant recoveries.

What happens at the functional capacity evaluation?


The physical therapist will typically examine the following:

  • The worker’s functional abilities via various modes of testing
  • Very specific testing including range of motion, lifting capacity, pain tolerance and more
  • Evaluation as to whether the employee can return to the job he/she did before the injury
  • Sometimes there is commentary on what might help the employee get back to work
  • What other medical treatment might help
  • What physical limitations any potential employer will have to consider for this particular employee
  • Permanent partial impairment ratings for the injured body part.

The entire test can take several hours. The employee will be asked to perform many tasks such as bending, carrying objects, walking, climbing, pulling, fingering, kneeling, talking, testing his/her range of motion, balance, and other work factors. The occupational or physical therapist will tackle the limitations from many vantage points such as sitting and standing.

The physical therapist will typically then use the standards set forth by the U.S Department of Labor’s guidelines to rate the employee’s work capabilities based on the testing performed.

  • Functional Capacity Exams (FCE’s) in North Carolina and Virginia Workers’ CompensationHere, the worker may be required to move or lift up to 10 pounds.
  • Here, the employer can comfortably handle 10 pounds and sometimes up to 20 pounds.
  • Workers who can do medium work can exert between 10 to 25 pounds comfortably and can handle up to 50 pounds on occasion.
  • Heavy. Here, workers can handle 25 to 50 pounds frequently and sometimes up to 100 pounds.
  • Very heavy. This worker can exert up to 20 pounds constantly, 25 to 50 pounds frequently, and over 100 pounds occasionally.

The Role of the Workers’ Compensation Attorney

The test is sent to the treating physician. The employer or insurance pays the FCE professional so it is crucial to review what happens with your attorney before you attend the evaluation. The physical therapist and employer is looking to see if you are faking or exaggerating your physical difficulties.

WARNING: There are some known FCE facilities that are “rigged” against employees, so it is critical that you inform your attorney as to the FCE facility where you are referred as soon as possible. Your attorney may be able to get the facility switched, especially if your treating doctor did not specify the facility where the testing will be performed in his or her referral.

The lawyer will explain what happens, what your rights are, and that you should not be a hero – you should say what hurts you and where. In some cases, particularly in North Carolina, your attorney may ask for a reevaluation of the FCE if the disability rating by the doctor appears to be incorrect. Your attorney will work hard so the FCE professional has the correct job description and that the facility is known as one that conducts unbiased testing.

How the FCE is used

There are two types of FCE tests:

  • Job Specific. This type of FCE focuses on the ability of the worker to perform the tasks of a specific job. Sometimes it is done at the therapist’s office but it can also be done at the job site. The aim here is to see if the employer can do his/her prior job – with our without restrictions.
  • General Purpose/Combination. These more common FCE’s are usually done if the job no longer exists or if the job functions have not be set, or if we are attempting to learn the employee’s capabilities in the previous job and in any potential alternate job. The tests are standardized. The test helps to determine if the worker can do future jobs that arise.
  • Permanent Impairment Ratings to Body parts--The FCE can also be used to determine the impairment rating for any worker with a permanent injury in a ratable body part. The impairment rating is a percentage that is assigned to the particular body part. For more on Permanent Impairment Ratings and what they mean, please see this video.


Contact an Experienced Work Injury Lawyer Before You Take a Functional Capacity Exam

The employer and insurance company are seeking to get you back to work as soon as they can so they can stop making benefit payments. North Carolina and Virginia lawyer Joe Miller has the experience and skills to fight early returns to work. He also understands how permanent impairment ratings should help you not hurt you. If you were hurt on the job, call attorney Joe Miller for help at 888-694-1671. You can also complete his online form for an appointment.

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5500-B Greenwich Rd.
Virginia Beach, VA 23462

Elizabeth City Office
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507 E Main St #K
Elizabeth City, NC 27907

If you are looking at this site, you or a loved one has probably been hurt. If that's true, you've come to the right place. Helping people who have been hurt is what we do. In fact, it is all we do. Joe Miller Law is a law firm concentrating exclusively on representing people who are injured by the carelessness of others or those hurt on the job. We provide the highest quality legal services to people who have been seriously injured. We practice Personal Injury law and Workmens' Compensation law in both Virginia and North Carolina.