A barman who worked at an Auckland tavern for just five months has been awarded seven years' pay and $45,000 cash after he was traumatised by three vicious armed robberies.

It is believed to be one of the biggest payouts in Employment Court history.

Kevin Davis, 58, sued his former employers, the Portage Licensing Trust, after he was held up with double-barrelled shotguns three times between February and May 1999.

He had been tied up, stamped on, screamed at and told he would get "blasted".

He did not return to work after the third robbery.

Described as "bright - happy-go-lucky" before he joined Richardson's Tavern in late 1998, Mr Davis had been reduced to "a gibbering wreck" and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the decision said.

Judge Barrie Travis awarded seven years' lost wages with interest, a $45,000 lump sum for damages, and all past medical and counselling costs. The total amount is thought to be up to $250,000.

Employment law expert Mark Ryan said he could recall only a handful of larger payments.

Mr Davis said the decision marked the end of "a long, horrible battle". He had fought for seven years to gain compensation for the events that he told the Herald on Sunday had changed his life forever.

"My lawyer called me on Tuesday, at 4.30pm," he said. "I just started shaking... I'm still shaking, a bit. I don't know where to put myself."

Murray Spearman, chief executive of the trust, said it was possible the trust would appeal the decision, but the payout would not have a great impact.

Last year, the trust's turnover exceeded $40 million. It employed nearly 200 people and made $5.7 million of donations and grants.

Mr Davis' lawyer, Steven Corlett, said the case - based on psychological rather than physical harm - could be a sign of things to come.

"The old view of workplace stress [is] as something that the employee has to put up with. As we've advanced medically, the harmful effects of continuing to work in that sort of environment have become more evident."

Mr Davis had never been trained to deal with robberies, or given the staff handbook, written in 1995 after armed robbery was identified as a risk. The Employment Court's decision said police were surprised at the lack of security cameras at the tavern.

Between January 16, 1997 and November 18, 1998 the tavern's incident diary recorded "break-ins at the bottle store, a person climbing through a trap door in the toilet, a police chase in the car park, cars being broken into, stolen and damaged, the ramming of the bottle-store roller door, a break-in at the casino bar and numerous alarm call-outs."

The final entry referred to what Judge Travis called an Indiana Jones-style robbery, in which robbers cut through the roof, stole $10,000 in $2 coins and replaced them with a weight, so as not to trigger the alarm.

The armed robberies occurred on March 1 and 21 and May 23, 1999.

The trust paid Mr Davis' wages for one month after the third armed robbery, but then stopped them without notice and terminated his employment - again with no notice - on August 23, 2001.

He had been living on a benefit since accident compensation was refused, the decision said.

Mr Davis had tried to work again but his stress disorder had made permanent work impossible.

Before taking a job at Richardson's Tavern Mr Davis had spent 32 years at sea, working as a cook and steward, eventually being promoted to chief steward, the decision said.

"His work record and employment references show that he was highly regarded as a competent hardworking employee... he would put on dinner parties, was a very sociable person and... had a great sense of humour and a determined work ethic."

In a terrible coincidence, Mr Davis had seen a man haemorrhage and die in front of the tavern the day after the last robbery.

His brother also died of cancer just weeks later.

In an unusual move, Judge Travis included a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet at the start of his decision: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions."