In brief - Contestant found to be employee of Seven Network and entitled to compensation

Reality TV contestants who undertake work should now be considered to be employees. Traditionally, the agreements that contestants signed strictly excluded them as employees. 

In a recent decision of the Workers Compensation Commission of New South Wales, the Commission determined that a participant in the Seven Network reality TV show, House Rules, and her partner were in fact employees when undertaking activity as instructed for the reality TV show. Television networks must consider the implications of this decision and manage their risks accordingly. 

Applicant felt harassed and bullied during filming, alleges she suffered psychological injury due to her employment with Seven Network 

The Seven Network (Operations) Limited (Seven Network) produced House Rules is a home renovation reality TV show which pitches pairs of contestants against each other in order to win a prize at the end of the show.

The applicant and her partner each signed an Agreement and Release, which was prepared by the Seven Network, which paid the applicant the sum of $500 per week with a further allowance of $500 per week during their time on the show. The agreement stated in clear terms that they were not employees. 

Late in 2016, the applicant and her partner were flown from Melbourne to Sydney for filming at various locations and at various times. The applicant has stated she felt harassed and bullied during the filming, which continued throughout all of the renovations, and that she felt it was not only condoned by the producer but was aggravated, even encouraged, by the producer.

During on-camera interviews, the applicant and her partner complained that they were being subjected to isolation and bullying and harassment by the other teams. On one occasion, the applicant witnessed her partner being physically assaulted. When such complaint was made to Channel Seven, she was threatened that her partner and herself would be portrayed negatively. 

The applicant further stated that Channel Seven portrayed her partner and herself as bullies in the episode, which was aired on television in April 2017. Following the airing of the episode, the applicant was subjected to online abuse on the Channel Seven Facebook page, including receiving threats of serious physical assault. The applicant has stated she has been fearful for her safety ever since. 

Since the episode and programme aired, the applicant has stated she has not been able to obtain work and has been informed this was due to how she was portrayed as a bully. The applicant has stated:

I am no longer offered interviews for jobs and work, which before my work injury I did not have any trouble obtaining interviews and successfully getting the work and job. I feel devastated and worthless about the loss of my career and working life.

The applicant alleged that she suffered a psychological injury arising out of the employment with Seven Network. 

Commission's findings on contestant's status as worker under the Workers Compensation Act and injury suffered

The Commission, in taking into account the relevant indicia and examining the totality of the relationship, determined the applicant was an employee of Seven Network. The conduct of Seven Network in providing instructions of attendance times, clothing, rules to follow, how work was to be completed, provision of tools and exclusive use of the applicant, demonstrated the employment relationship.

Further, the Commission held that even if the applicant was not an employee, she would be a "Deemed Worker" pursuant to the Workers Compensation Act

The Commission found that the applicant had suffered a psychological/psychiatric injury in the course of her employment with Seven Network. 

Producers of reality TV must consider their work health and safety obligations 

The applicant is also covered by the Work Health and Safety Act of NSW and the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Victoria.

Seven Network and Channel Seven have a duty to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers and others as part of their business or undertaking.

It is evident that any business which creates a risk of bullying and harassment within its business operations, must take steps to manage such risk. Businesses should manage the risk of bullying and harassment by implementing an appropriate policy which is relevant for the workplace. The existence of bullying and harassment has been held to be a breach of the relevant safety laws. 

For example, in the matter of Monjon (Australia) Pty Ltd & John Moncrief v Worksafe in Victoria, the company was fined $97,000 and the managing director convicted and fined $19,250 where the managing director used racist and sexist language to the company employees over a two year period. 

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.

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