Functional Capacity Evaluations for Injured Employees Returning to Work

Accidents happen every day across the nation, and injured individuals may find themselves forced to undergo medical procedures, recovery, and physical therapy before they can return to work. Whether the person was hurt in an accident in the workplace, the home, or out in public, they may find that they are unable to return to work until their recovery is complete. Smart employers utilize functional employment testing to ensure that workers who are recovering from an injury are fully capable of handling the demands of the job before letting them return to work. This way, the employer is protecting the employee from further harm or relapse and is protecting them from an injury claim or worker’s compensation claim.

Functional testing allows the employer and associated physician to place employees on the job site properly. Functional capacity evaluations not only test healthy employees for fitness and ability, but they also allow employers to monitor the recovery of individuals following illness or injury. As a compassionate employer, you understand that your employees count on their paychecks and need to return to work as soon as possible. It is important not to rush an employee back or allow them to return to work before they are ready, even if they insist that they are healthy enough to return to work. A functional capacity evaluation is an essential process that should be put in place before any injured or ill employee is allowed back on the job site.

Elements of a Functional Capacity Evaluation

A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) is an essential test protocol that can help an employer determine the recovery level for an injured or ill employee. If an employee does not entirely pass this evaluation, it does not necessarily mean that they cannot work at all, but may require alterations to their workload or modifications to the conditions under which they are working. The elements of an FCE include:

  • How long an employee can stand or walk
  • Push and pull power
  • Lifting power
  • Bending and balance capability
  • Reach
  • Flexibility
  • Grasping/holding capacity
  • Balance

Once the employee’s fitness level is evaluated, a physician can sign off on the capabilities of the employee and can set a recommended workload and any modifications or adjustments that are needed.

Depending on the severity of the worker’s injuries, occupational rehabilitation may be required. Occupational rehabilitation focuses not only on the person’s physical capabilities but also their cognitive abilities following an accident or illness. Whenever extensive physical therapy is needed, there is often an element of fear, self-doubt, and frustration that can hinder the recovery process.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy often requires the involvement of professionals including:

  • Occupational therapists – these specialized therapists are there to help facilitate the injured individuals’ return to work. These therapists are certified and qualified to make recommendations about the individual’s job capabilities, move them to different areas, or reduce their workloads as they deem fit.
  • Occupational psychologists – specialized occupational psychologists will monitor the employee’s cognitive abilities and will monitor their mood, development, anger, stress management, and other concerns.
  • Kinesiologists – a certified kinesiologist will assist the employee in recovery, training, and therapy. This is an essential part of the recovery process, so having an experienced and committed trainer on staff is critical to helping your employees recover.

As an employer, you care about the health and well-being of your employees and do not want them to rush back to work from a severe injury. If an individual is ill or suffered a severe illness recently, there are additional concerns that must be addressed before they are allowed to return to work. That’s why functional capacity evaluations are so valuable to employers: they will enable you to get an accurate read on the ability of the employee to return to work and let you modify their workload to make sure they are not under undue strain or stress while on the job.

Types of Injuries that Require an FCE

If an employee returns to work too early following an accident, they may be at risk of worsening the injury or being injured again. The following injuries can be tough to recover from, and employees should be tested thoroughly if they have suffered:

  • Back injury – Back injuries can worsen over time and can severely hinder an employee’s ability to work. Back injuries may be caused by lifting, repetitive motion, and other typical workplace demands, and while an employee may insist that they are capable of handling their duties, back injuries should always be taken seriously by every employer.
  • Spinal cord injuries – Spine injuries are often very serious and should not be taken lightly. They can threaten an individual’s ability to move, walk, and properly use all of their limbs. A spinal cord injury often requires months or even years to recover fully, so make sure injured employees are evaluated carefully.
  • Head injury/Traumatic Brain Injury – TBI and other head injuries can affect an individual’s cognitive functions as well as cause serious physical impairment. We take head injuries very seriously, from minor headaches to concussions to the more serious traumatic brain injuries.
  • Repetitive motion injuries – Twisting, turning, typing, lifting, and other motions can cause damage to the joints, nerves, and other parts of the body. While it can be challenging to locate the exact cause of these injuries, they can range from minor to extremely serious and should be examined thoroughly before the employee is allowed to return to work.

As a caring, diligent employer, you will likely want to have all injured employees thoroughly tested before allowing them to return to work. Keep in mind that employees may downplay the extent of an injury or illness out of fear of losing their job or missing additional time off of work. That’s why it is important to stress that FCEs are for their benefit, to make sure that they do not suffer further injury on the job.

Why Choose WorkSTEPS?

WorkSTEPS has been the leader in functional employment testing for companies large and small across the nation. Our focus is on the health and well-being of the employees, as well as the safety and security of your company. We firmly believe that a healthy workforce is a happy workforce, and we are ready to help you with all of your functional testing and functional capacity evaluation needs.

If an employee suffers an injury away from the workplace or on the job, it is critical to an employer that you take the extent of their injuries into account. Far too many employers believe that an injury (especially one that did not occur in the workplace) is the responsibility of the injured party to address and that recovery should be their concern. This line of thinking is irresponsible and could lead to a far worse injury on the job if the employee is not adequately monitored and adequate therapy options are not provided.

By testing your employees before letting them return to work, you can protect them and your company. You should evaluate their progress as they continue their recovery, and can issue more work or heavier workloads to them as they show signs of improvement until they reach 100% health. Proper monitoring procedures, implementation of the recommendations of physicians, and documentation of the steps taken to help the employee in their recovery are all essential components to helping the employee recover and return to work. By following these steps and procedures, you will be protected from any claims against your company for allowing an injured or ill employee to return to the job before they are physically ready for the demands of the position.

If you have questions about functional capacity evaluations or functional employment testing overall, turn to the experts at WorkSTEPS. We have the knowledge, resources, and experience helping companies just like yours ensure that their workers are capable of handling the jobs you need them to do. We protect your workforce, and we protect your company. We are here to help explain your options, how the process works, and how we can help you will all of your needs. Contact us at (512) 617-4100 to learn more about how we can help you today.