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It has become very common for doctors to send people involved in Louisiana Workers Compensation claims for a "Functional Capacity Evaluation" before providing an opinion about what type of work the patient can perform. Too many Louisiana Workers Compensation doctors just go along with whatever the physical therapist who performs the Functional Capacity Evaluation decides. Considering the limited value of the information that can be obtained from a Functional Capacity Evaluation, many patients conclude that the purpose of the Functional Capacity Evaluation is more for the Louisiana Workers Compensation insurance companies benefit than to obtain a reliable estimate of the claimants' functional capacity.

A Functional Capacity Evaluation (often called an "FCE,") is a series of physical exercises that usually take only a few hours to complete. The test is typically given in a one-day session lasting about six hours, or over two days, lasting a few hours each day.

The test often includes standing, climbing, lifting weights, carrying boxes, squeezing calipers and other activities, all while being observed by a physical therapist. When the test is over, the therapist prepares a report that details the results and provides an opinion about the level of physical activity the claimant can perform.

There are so many problems with the process that it's sometimes hard to believe the degree to which doctors and judges will rely upon the Functional Capacity Evaluation Report.

For example:

  • The test takes only a few hours on an isolated day or two, making it highly unlikely that it will produce an accurate representation of the patient's functional capacity in a job working eight hours or more per day, day-in and day-out, over an unlimited number of days.
  • Functional Capacity Evaluations are especially questionable for people with spine injuries (neck or lower back). People with spine injuries are often able to perform a few isolated movements without a serious flare-up of their symptoms, but it would be impossible for them to perform those same activities many times over the course of a day or repetitively on consecutive days. In fact, simply sitting in a chair for hours at a time often becomes very painful or impossible for people with serious lower back injuries. The Functional Capacity Evaluation rarely even attempts to test for those symptoms.
  • Unfortunately, the test often turns into a type of trap. The therapist will often repeatedly tell the patient to stop if they feel pain and remind them they shouldn't do anything to injure themselves. Most patients follow these instructions. The therapist may then write in the report that the patient didn't give it their best effort and showed "self-limiting" behavior. The therapist may also ask the patient to perform tests that have nothing to do with the medical conditions upon which the Workers Compensation claim is based. The therapist may then use unexpected or inconsistent responses to those tests to allege that the patient is behaving "inappropriately," i.e., faking it.
  • The therapist will almost always report that the patient is able to return to some type of work. In fact, many therapists use FCE Report forms that fail to include "Currently Unable To Return to Work" as an option. It's then up to the doctor who ordered the test to review the therapists conclusions and explain in his report to the Louisiana Workers Compensation insurance company why the therapist's report should or should not be accepted at face value. 

Once there is evidence that indicates that you may be able to return to some type of work, the Louisiana Workers Compensation insurance company must find out whether the company you were working for when you were injured will allow you to return to work with their company.

In the past, injured employees were concerned that their employer would bring them back to a "light-duty" position created just for them and then "lay them off" after a few weeks, claiming that no further Louisiana Workers Compensation benefits should be paid because they had "proven" that the employee could work.

Thankfully, this tactic has become less common. It has become more complex and risky for an employer to provide an injured employee with a modified or "light-duty" job and then later terminate them without cause. This is especially true if it's clear that your medical condition will never allow you to return to the type of work that you were doing before your injury. Depending on the extent of your residual disability and the amount of time you've been out of work, the Americans With Disabilities Act or the Family & Medical Leave Act may be substantial factors in your employer's decision about whether to allow you to return to work. A few employers have extensive "light-duty" programs, but those employers are the exception.

The more common issue that arises is that the doctor selected by the employer to perform a Second Medical Opinion SMO may release you to essentially unrestricted work, while your treating doctor continues to keep you on restricted duty or no-work status. The employer will then agree to allow the claimant to return to work in their old job with no restrictions. Additionally, the insurance company will tell the employee that work is available, so they are terminating Louisiana Workers Compensation income benefits. Thousands of Louisiana Workers Compensation claimants face this situation each year.

If your employer will not allow you to return to work with their business, the Vocational Rehabilitation Expert hired by the Louisiana Workers Compensation insurance company may ask to meet with you for an interview. The purpose of the interview is for them to prepare a report about your interests, goals, personal circumstances and other jobs you've had in the past. They may also ask you to undergo basic skills testing. They may even help you prepare a resume.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Expert will then prepare letter identifying a job, or a short list of jobs, they say match your current physical capabilities and skills. This letter often referred to as a Louisiana Workers Compensation Labor Market Survey.

Next: Labor Market Surveys


David Buie, Louisiana Workers Compensation Attorney and Social Security Disability Attorney, 650 Poydras Street, Suite 1400, New Orleans, LA 70131, (800) 851-9405 / Fax: (866) 702-5297 Representing claimants in:
Alexandria Baton Rouge Bossier City Covington Gretna
Hammond Harahan Harvey Houma Kenner Lafayette Lake Charles
Laplace Marrero Metairie Monroe New Iberia New Orleans
Opelousas Ruston Shreveport Slidell Terrytown

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