Can reality TV contestants really be called “workers”?

Tuesday 17 March 2020
Sharlene Prasad

When contestants on reality TV shows eat horrible creatures or renovate homes to win themselves a $200,000 cash prize, it is likely that they do not consider that their actions are being performed as part of a “job”.

A recent landmark case against the Seven Network has ruled a former contestant on the reality show, House Rules, to be a “worker” of the production company, and therefore entitled to workers’ compensation for a psychological injury she sustained while being on the show.

Who is a “worker”?

In considering whether a person is classified as a worker under law, the totality of the relationship must be considered in determining whether an employment contract exists. 

The factors which must be considered when determining whether a person is employed as a “worker” include:

  • The mode of remuneration;
  • The provision and maintenance of equipment;
  • The obligation to work;
  • The timetable of work;
  • The right to delegate work;
  • The right to dismiss a person;
  • The right to dictate the hours of work, place of work; and
  • The right to the exclusive services of the person engaged.

If the above factors do not apply, thereby demonstrating that an employee/employer relationship does not exist, the relevant legislation may categorise a person as a “deemed” worker.  Such categorisation of a worker still entitles an injured person to compensation.

In the case against the Seven Network, the House Rules contestant could have been categorised as “other contractor”.  This is because she was carrying out work of a value greater than $10 and was done so separate to a trade or business that she normally undertakes.

Case Study

During her time on House Rules, the contestant was required to renovate homes in various locations. She was paid $500 per week and provided an additional allowance of $500 per week for food and other expenses.

While appearing on the show, the contestant felt she was harassed and bullied during the filming, and was threatened by producers that her and her teammate would be portrayed negatively when the show aired. She also claimed she was subject to online abuse, suffered isolation, was fearful for her safety after receiving threats of serious physical assault, and has not been able to obtain work due to negative public scrutiny.

As a result, she suffers anxiety, depression, adjustment disorder and PTSD, which she has sought treatment for.

After lodging a WorkCover claim, the Seven Network denied liability for the contestant’s psychological injury because she was not a “worker” and did not enter into a contract of service with them.

Why is this case important?

To be entitled to workers compensation under Victorian legislation you must be a classified as a “worker” under law.

Although the case against the Seven Network considers a novel set of circumstances, it has sparked fear for the entire reality television industry as contestants can now argue they are employees of a television network, thereby allowing them access to WorkCover entitlements for any injuries.

This case is also a reminder to employers to be aware that if they enter into any relationships, regardless of whether an agreement explicitly states that an employer/employee relationship does not exist, they can still be liable for injuries associated with engaging others for employable tasks.

More importantly though, the case reaffirms the factors which identify when an employee/employer relationship exists and that certain actions can mean that a person is categorised as a “worker” under law. 

If you are unsure of your employment classification and have been injured at work, call our expert legal team for free advice about your WorkCover entitlements on (03) 9321 9988.

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