Adviser claims work pressure led to mental breakdown

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A National Australia Bank adviser who claimed his heavy workload led to mental health problems has had his case rejected by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Hashem Azary was promoted in 2011 to a senior adviser position in the home loans division after four years with NAB.

He claimed that despite meeting his performance goals, his manager subjected him to increasing pressure to meet unrealistic loan application targets, and bullied and intimidated him until, at a meeting on 20 April 2012, he was given an ultimatum – to accept a lower level position or be micro-managed with the threat of termination if his results did not improve.

Azary has not worked since that meeting and has been under the care of a psychiatrist for much of the time. On 16 May 2012, he claimed compensation for acute anxiety attacks and depression which he said was a result of the unrealistic pressure put on him at work.

However, NAB said no compensation should be awarded as any administrative action taken against Azary was done in a reasonable manner, and even if he suffers from a mental condition, his employment did not contribute to it to a significant degree.

Court documents record that throughout the hearing, Azary displayed what some doctors noted in their consultations with him as “regressive behaviour” – walking stooped with his hands clasped in front of him, rocking continually in his seat, avoiding eye contact and speaking in a somewhat child-like voice. 

Azary gave evidence that his symptoms started within one or two days of his meeting with his manager on 20 April 2012, and that he was unable to control the rocking which “never stops”.

His wife testified as to his poor mental state, giving evidence that while he was working at NAB he got up in the middle of the night, got dressed and tried to rush off to work because of the stress. 

But NAB disputed Azary’s claim he suffered from a psychiatric condition – even having him covertly filmed over a number of days entering and leaving his home to prove he was ‘sane’ – and pointed to Azary’s ability to answer questions in court lucidly.

Other NAB staff gave evidence Azary did not have a higher workload than others and that his performance had been slipping despite help being offered from his manager.

The tribunal accepted Azary found the formal performance management process distressing and while it is possible he suffered some psychological reaction at the time which may have been trigger for an underlying disease, they concluded it was unlikely.

Therefore the tribunal determined he did not suffer from a work-related injury and was not eligible for compensation.

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