A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) evaluates an individual’s capacity to perform work activities related to his or her participation in employment.  The FCE process compares the individual’s health status, and body functions and structures to the demands of the job and the work environment.  An FCE’s primary purpose is to evaluate a person’s ability to participate in work.  Traditionally, FCE’s measured an individual’s ability to perform the physical demands of a job, but over the last decade many FCE batteries have begun to include evaluation of cognitive demands if such testing is warranted.  The FCE must be administered with care for the client’s safety and well-being.

Who Can Benefit from an FCE?

  • Someone who has been injured on the job to determine his or her ability to return to the job or alternate work.
  • Someone applying for Social Security Disability benefits
  • Someone seeking to return to work or volunteer activities after an injury or illness
  • Someone injured in a catastrophic accident *(i.e., automobile accident) for whom an FCE can determine performance skills and abilities related to resuming former employment or new job
  • Someone seeking vocational rehabilitation services
  • Students receiving transitional service from school to the work setting to determine their skills and the extent of support required to perform in a job.

Usually an Occupational Therapist completes an FCE.  The FCE may be used to determine:

  • Goals for rehabilitation or readiness for discharge planning
  • Ability so safely return to work status (including full duty, modified duty, or transitional duty)
  • Work ability status for vocational rehabilitation
  • Worker’s compensation case settlement
  • Disability status
  • Ability to meet job demands as part of a hiring process (pre-work/post-offer employment testing)
  • Ability to meet the demands of other activities (i.e., being a student, volunteering)

What are the Components of the FCE?

The components of the FCE will vary based on the purpose of the assessment.  The FCE typically begins with a client interview, medical record review, and musculoskeletal screening.  Functional testing may include graded material-handling activities such as lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling; and positional tolerance activities such as sitting, standing, walking, balancing, reaching, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, object monitoring is frequently performed during the FCE to document client-reported levels of pain during various activities as well as to manage pain.  The FCE may also include evaluation of an individual’s hand dexterity, hand coordination, endurance, and other job-specific functions.

The FCE report includes an overall physical demand level (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.), a summary of job-specific physical abilities, a summary of performance consistency and overall voluntary effort, job match information, adaptations, to enhance performance and treatment recommendations, if requested.  Some FCE’s are designed to also report on the worker’s ability to meeting the cognitive demands of the job in question.

FCEs are done on a one-on-one basis and may range in length from 4 or 6 hours.  The FCE may take place over 2 consecutive days.

Referral and Payment for FCEs

FCEs are paid for by worker’s compensation insurance plans, self-insured plans; individual insurance plans; federal, state and/or local agencies; managed care plans; individuals themselves, employers, or legal firms.


This program is structured to not only identify work capacities but to recover your functional skills enabling you to return to work after an injury.  We also offer treatment plans for Work Hardening and Work Conditioning.

Because occupational therapists are experts at evaluating an individual’s ability to perform activities, highly skilled at analyzing work tasks, and able to measure the wide range of environmental factors that can affect work performance, they are well qualified to perform FCEs.  An occupational therapy practitioner’s holistic approach can enhance work performance through identification of techniques, task modifications, and environmental adaptations.