Reality TV - contestants or employees?
In what could be a decision with wide-reaching implications for the television industry, the NSW Workers Compensation Commission (WCC) has delivered a landmark ruling, finding that a contestant on the hit Seven Network show House Rules was an employee of the production company.
Nicole Prince claimed she had suffered psychological trauma as a result of harassment and bullying during the filming of the show. Arbitrator Cameron Burge of the WCC agreed, and found that the nature of the relationship between the network and Ms Prince was that of an employer and employee.
Despite the contract between Ms Prince and the network clearly stating that her “participation in the program is not employment” the WCC was not convinced and found that the evidence “overwhelmingly” pointed to Ms Prince being a worker.
The manner in which Ms Prince was portrayed to the other contestants and to the public by the producers led to Ms Prince receiving abuse and threats of physical violence, and had been left finding it difficult to obtain work. Further, she alleged that she had been isolated, bullied, and harassed by the other teams, and that this led to her suffering a psychological injury for which she should be compensated.
The WCC found that as she was an employee, she fit the definition of a “worker” within the meaning of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW) and was able to claim compensation. The WCC ordered that the Seven Network pay Ms Prince “reasonable necessary medical and treatment expenses.”
While not a finding of a Court, this decision by the WCC has the potential to open up reality TV production companies and television networks to claims that their contestants are actually employees. In the event that the contestants have worked long hours for little financial compensation, the producers and networks may be vulnerable to underpayments claims.
If you think this might affect you, send our lawyers an email or give us a call on 1300 970 214 for a no-obligation chat with one of our lawyers.