The Basics of Functional Capacity Evaluations

The Basics of Functional Capacity Evaluations

  • Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) objectively measures a worker’s physical capabilities and tolerances. The FCE process evaluates the worker’s health status and body function to the demands of his/her work and working environment. Similar testing includes functional capacity assessment (FCA), physical demand level (PDL) or work capacity assessment (WCA). The purpose of an FCE is to:
  • Reduce the risk of hurting the worker in job tasks
  • Improving the likelihood of being safe in task performance by helping individuals identify functional decrements
  • Determine the presence and subsequently the degree of disability for administrative and/or legal purposes e.g. compensation, benefits, re-assignment etc.

The criteria for a standard FCE according to the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 are:

Safety – the FCE in itself should do not cause injury to the patient

Reliability – results of the FCE should be dependable across tests, evaluators, patients and time of administration

Validity – the core derived from the FCE should reflect the worker’s true ability

Practicality – the cost of the evaluation, interpretation, and review should be reasonable

• To enable an applicant claim for disability benefits
•  A worker that seeking to determine his/her ability to return to work or begin a new job after an injury


Functional Goal Setting: this FCE aims to identify the ability to perform a key task and thus used to categorize a worker’s pre-injury status to post-injury. Thus this can be used to set a physical functional goal or the verify progress of therapy.

Disability Rating: this FCE identifies the loss of work capacity of a worker compared to the average normal value for the job role. This is used to estimate the level of disability.
Job Matching: this simply as it states identifies if a worker’s capacity if adequate for a particular job. It is one of the most complexes of the evaluations.

Occupation Matching: this rather identifies a worker’s capacity for an occupational group compared to general occupational demands e.g. fitter occupational group.

Work Capacity Evaluation: this FCE matches a worker’s functional capacity to the demands of all occupations in the competitive labor market. This is the most comprehensive of evaluations as it is not focused on a job or task demands.



The component of a functional capacity evaluation differs based on the purpose and type of assessment. However, in general, most FCEs will consist of a client interview, review of medical records, musculoskeletal screening, positional capacity and tolerance, pain monitoring and review of material-handling such as lifting, carrying, pushing etc.

An FCE report would give a summary of the worker’s functional capacity, their physical demand level for specific jobs, overall voluntary effort, job match information and adaptations to improve performance. The time for functional capacity assessment may vary from 1 to 6 hours and may take place over 2 days. FCE’s are a very useful tool for rehabilitation and re-integration into the workforce.

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