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Injured TV show contestant found to be a ‘worker’

Prince v Seven Network (Operations) Limited [2019] NSWWCC 313

NSW Workers Compensation Commission

25 September 2019

Background

Ms Prince lodged an application for worker's compensation in New South Wales. She was a contestant in a reality show, House Rules, where contestants undertake home renovations in competition with other contestants for a prize.

The format of the show follows the usual course of reality shows, where pairs of contestants are gradually “evicted” from the contest until there is a winner.

When selected for the show, the contestants sign an agreement, and they are paid $500 per week, with a further $500 per week allowance.

Ms Prince claimed to have developed a psychological injury as a result of bullying, harassment and isolation by the producer, and other contestants. She also claimed that being portrayed in a negative way in the televised episodes (by editing of footage) contributed to her condition.

Seven denied that Ms Prince was a worker. It said that a contestant was not anything like a worker; she was not providing any service, she was there to vie for a prize.

Seven submitted that the contract was neither for services or of service, and that Ms Prince was paid so that she could live while participating in the competition. Seven's argument was that it was not an employment relationship but a competition.

The Workers' Compensation Commission in New South Wales was therefore required to consider the terms of the agreement and how it was carried out.

Findings

The Commission ruled in favour of Ms Prince, finding that she was a worker.

The Commission accepted that Ms Prince did in fact provide a service to Seven. She gave her time and undertook the renovation tasks without which the show would not exist. Seven benefited from her services. She was remunerated in return.

The issue then became whether it was a contract of service or for services. If it was a contract of service then the relationship would be one of employment.

The Commission referred to well-established authority that set out the relevant criteria that need to be considered.

These include:

  • mode of payment
  • deduction of income tax
  • provision and maintenance of equipment
  • obligation to work
  • ability to delegate work
  • the right to dictate hours and place of work
  • the right to the person's exclusive services.

However the totality of the relationship must also be considered. The degree of control that is exercised by the person engaging the services is an important consideration.

When applying these considerations to the facts of the arrangement between Ms Prince and Seven, the Commission was satisfied that there was an employer/employee relationship and that Ms Prince was in fact, a worker.

The Commissioner said, “In no way can it be said that [she] was performing work as an entrepreneur who owns and operates her own business. Rather, she and the other contestants were representatives of [Seven's] business while they were engaged on the show, and indeed afterwards when they were required to carry out promotional activities.”

Whilst she did not have income tax deducted and nor was holiday or sick leave provided, there were overwhelming indicia of an employment relationship as follows:

  • rate of remuneration set by Seven
  • Ms Prince was an integral part of the show and essential to the very business and product Seven was engaged in
  • Seven had exclusive use (of Ms Prince) for every hour of every day of filming
  • Seven could dictate what she wore
  • she completed tasks as directed by Seven
  • she did not provide her own tools and materials
  • she could not employ anyone else to do the work
  • the rules provided she was the public face of the show
  • a weekly rate was paid to her
  • the work she completed was for the benefit of Seven, not herself.

Discussions / implications

Although this was a case determined in New South Wales, similar tests are applied in our jurisdiction to determine the issue of “worker”.

The case demonstrates that a Court or Tribunal can look beyond what is written in a contract, to the real nature relationship between the parties.