This disturbing article by Noel Towell in the Sydney Morning Herald presents the story of a man who claimed an abusive boss left him in need of electroshock therapy countered by the healthy picture of this same man on surveillance DVDs gathered by his employer:
Workers who say their jobs have left them mentally damaged are increasingly being placed under surveillance to test their claims.
The federal government’s workplace insurer, Comcare, which is slowly going broke under the cost of ‘’psychosocial injury” compo cases, has warned it is going undercover to bust dodgy claims by public servants.
It follows the case of the National Australia Bank, which put private eyes on the trail of a former employee in Sydney who claimed workers’ compensation for a range of mental disorders allegedly caused by workplace bullying.
The case was keenly watched by insurers who have found if difficult if not impossible to disprove mental injuries, as opposed to physical fakers, who can be easily detected.
The claimant in the Sydney case, Hashem Azary, looked a mess when he gave his evidence to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal last month.
The former bank worker rocked in his seat, walked with a stoop, avoided eye contact and spoke in a child-like voice as he told the tribunal how bullying by his bosses at NAB caused his mental health problems.
The claimant’s wife told the tribunal that Mr Azary was “totally dependent” on her, that she had to help him shower, shave and dress, and how she had to put her husband’s food out in front of him and then coax him to eat.
He could drive, she said, but only in emergencies.
But private detectives hired by the bank had observed him clean-shaven and neatly dressed as he drove his son to childcare, took his wife and daughter to McDonald’s, and then spent a few hours together in the city.
There was no rocking or stooping on the DVD shown to the tribunal.
A neuropsychologist also discredited Mr Azary’s claims of mental illness.
”[Mr Azary] endorsed a high degree of exaggerated, unusual and extreme symptoms atypical of bona fide clients, but more typical of individuals asked to feign mental disorders in simulation research,” Dr Thomas O’Neill told the tribunal.
Dr O’Neill said there was an 81.8 per cent chance Mr Azary was faking it.
Two other psychiatrists on the case, Thomas Newlyn and David Bell, backed away from their diagnoses after they saw the covertly filmed footage and read Dr O’Neill’s findings.
Another two psychiatrists saw the footage and did not alter their view that the former home loan salesman was sick, but they could not explain how he looked so healthy on the DVD and acted so unwell when he went to the doctor’s office or to the tribunal.
Everybody agreed it was curious that Mr Arazy spent four days in a psychiatric hospital, took anti-psychotic drugs and underwent electro-shock therapy but the tribunal held that none of those activities proved the claimant was sick.
Tribunal members Jill Toohey and Michael Couch found Mr Azary and his wife to be ”unreliable witnesses”, rejected their evidence and threw their case out.
The failed claim could be a watershed for bosses across the nation, particularly in the public sector, beset by a rising tide of mental health claims.
Comcare, which has been hit hardest by the rise in mental health claims, would not comment on the individual case but confirmed that it used covert surveillance in certain cases.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/private-eyes-to-probe-public-servants-mental-health-claims-20140425-zqziu.html#ixzz3003c1za0
This case doesn’t surprise me at all, but it brings up a few points. The first is that if someone cannot even shower or feed himself, then his problem is far deeper than just having been bullied. At a certain point every target needs to get his or her act together and grow up. Carrying on like a catatonic invalid helps no one.
The second thing that even after the evidence clearly demonstrates he’s a malingerer, some still believe his symptoms are real. That is basic human psychology–cognitive dissonance. No matter how much evidence is presented countering their perceptions, they stick to their guns. This exact same process happens when targets of bullying or mobbing are accused of misconduct, mental illness, incompetence and more–those who make the claims will stick to their perceptions no matter how much evidence demonstrates otherwise.
Finally, the most significant point I take away from this case is what I’ve been saying all along–targets who sue their employer will suffer even greater abuse. Anyone contemplating an employment lawsuit should be well prepared for having private investigators hot on their trail. They will be put under surveillance, their backgrounds will be combed thoroughly for anything that could taint their reputation, their online activity, such as comments on blogs and Facebook, will be closely monitored, friends, neighbors and former employers will be questioned about the target’s sanity and morality, and even their garbage may be snatched up and looked over (it’s perfectly legal, once it’s out on the curb). In short, litigation is a nightmare that can cause a mobbing/bullying target far more damage than the initial bullying/mobbing ever did. We do need legal protections, but those who pursue legal remedies need to be prepared for what it means–surveillance, character assassination, and a profound loss of privacy.