The Fit for Duty exam is a valuable tool to help expedite workers’ comp claim resolution. However, fit for duty exams and other types of functional testing are often missed by many companies. Effective use of these exams can result in significant savings for employers.
Under certain circumstances, employers may use a fit for duty exam that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Doing so ensures injured workers who return to work are capable of performing the essential functions of their jobs safely without risk of reinjury.
Fit for Duty Exams
A Fit for Duty exam is functional testing of an employee to ensure they are medically and physically capable of performing the essential functions of their job. An employer can require an injured employee to undergo a Fit for Duty exam if it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Typically, that applies when the employer has a reasonable belief that the worker’s condition may prevent him from doing the essential functions of his job safely or that he may pose a direct threat to his own safety or the safety of others.
This testing can help determine the extent of the injury and whether there is a direct threat. The exam also includes testing on whether the injured worker can perform his essential job functions. For example, the testing will determine how long the worker can walk, sit, stand, drive, etc.; how much she can safely lift and from what postures and positions. The clinician doing the testing can also help determine
- Whether the symptoms correlate to organic pathology; meaning there is an observable and measurable disease process
- If they match the doctor’s opinion of the injury
- Whether there is over-exaggeration of the injury
Value of the Fit for Duty Test
“The real key, is that under the ADA, they are considered a temporarily disabled employee that deserves the same consideration as a permanently disabled worker,” explained Larry Feeler, founder and CEO of WorkSTEPS, “to find out what they can do versus what they can’t, to try to protect their job versus put it in jeopardy, to temporarily accommodate from activities of their job they are not yet safe to perform, or to get them a full duty release because they can already demonstrate that the problem does not affect their ability to perform the essential functions of their job.”
Often, performing an individualized assessment of an injured worker can identify situations that may:
- Controvert a surgical procedure, such as on the back
- Allow the individual who has been removed from work to return to work safely with or without temporary restrictions immediately
- Create accountability for the treating doctor and the patient
- Help to quantify the diagnosis and the sincerity of the injured worker, possibly even quantifying that the injury was not work-related.
According to Larry Feeler, four specific scenarios allow employers to conduct FFD testing under the ADA:
- Voluntary testing, such as a company-sponsored health fair
- On an as-needed basis, if an employee demonstrates difficulty performing any essential job function
- On a regularly scheduled interval as a part of a recognized company policy to determine whether individuals in physically demanding jobs continue to be fit for duty
- When an employee becomes disabled or injured or when an employee wishes to return to work after an injury or illness to determine ability to perform essential functions with or without a reasonable accommodation
Employers who also use functional testing at the new-hire post-offer stage have the caveat of comparing comprehensive baseline full body function to post-injury data to specifically identify what damage this injury caused! Such individualized data is “invaluable and can move that case along to closure or be used on follow-up to determine if their progress is stagnant and therefore they need to be placed at maximum medical improvement and either accommodated or released,” Feeler said.
FFD testing can safely and objectively determine if an injured worker who is returning to the worksite can safely do his job. Since treating physicians are typically not concerned with measuring functional performance, employers must take steps to ensure their workers will be able to maintain their health and safety.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.
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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.