Seven has lodged an appeal against a recent NSW Workers Compensation Commission Ruling after a former House Rules contestant won a case for medical expenses due to psychological injury.
2017 contestant Nicole Prince accused Seven of bullying and harassment, saying she was portrayed negatively, leading to online abuse and lack of employment opportunities.
“After my episode aired I wanted to kill myself and I started drinking more alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate my injury,” Prince said in her submission.
The detail in the 17 page ruling is full of examples which raise questions about comprehensive duty of care. They included a psychological test prior to casting, conducted via Skype.
Prince claims she and her teammate Fiona Taylor were isolated from other participants after renovation of their home.
“It was not only condoned by the producer, but it was aggravated even encouraged by them”
“I felt her harassed and bullied during the filming. This continued throughout all of the renovations. It was not only condoned by the producer, but it was aggravated even encouraged by them,” she claimed.
“As soon as Fiona and I entered the studio for the scoring of the teams’ work we could see and feel the hatred from the other teams. We did not understand where all of it was coming from. We discovered months later that the “reveal footage” that was shown to the other teams only contained our negative comments about their renovation work and none of the positive things that we had said. They later told us that they had felt hurt and upset that we didn’t seem to care how hard they had worked, and they thought we were the nastiest people on the planet.”
She also claimed, “During every camera interview both myself and Fiona complained on film that we were being subjected to isolation, bullying and harassment by the other teams.
“On one occasion I witnessed Fiona be physically assaulted. When I complained to Channel Seven, I was then threatened that Fiona and I would be portrayed negatively.
“After our episode was aired I was subjected to online abuse on the Channel Seven Facebook page”
“True to their threatening words, Channel Seven portrayed Fiona and I as bullies in the episode (edited by Channel Seven) featuring our team which went to air on or around 17 April 2017. After our episode was aired I was subjected to online abuse on the Channel Seven Facebook page, including receiving threats of serious physical assault. I have been fearful for my safety ever since.”
She also said New Idea New Idea printed the team had been mean and scored all of the other working teams low.
A psychologist was present during filming (it isn’t clear if at all times) and producers, when alerted to their complaints, arranged for team members to consult psychologists to set up payment plans to ensure ongoing counselling for as long as it was required.
The production team would have access to all of the contestants’ phone calls, messages and emails.
“In Tasmania, I was once again told to go into the house and “give it to Harry like you did in New South Wales”. I ended up getting very emotional and asked to take the camera away but it was continually in my face. I broke down, as I couldn’t handle the constant pressure or bullying. In Tasmania, we were told which heater was in stock and we were not to have a choice. We started to communicate better with the other team members who started to realise Nicole and I weren’t the women we were made out to be from the onset,” Prince submitted.
“I feel devastated and worthless about the loss of my career and working life”
“Since our episode and program aired I have not been able to obtain work and have been informed this was due to how I was portrayed as a bully. 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.”
At the heart of the dispute was whether Prince’s involvement in the series constituted employment and therefore whether she was injured during the course of employment and entitled to workers’ compensation.
She received $500 a week plus $500 a week allowance, but was required to be available for filming at anytime.
Seven’s contract stipulated they were not employees and their involvement did not constitute and employer / employee relationship. Seven’s insurer also denied liability on the basis that Prince was technically “not a worker”.
Seven maintained she was a contestant trying to win $200,000, not there to earn $1,000 per week. Seven claimed if she was not an employee, her symptoms did they arise out of employment, but through social media over which Channel Seven had no control.
But last month arbitrator Cameron Burge overruled Seven on 11 grounds.
“In my view, having regard to the relevant factors set forth in the authorities discussed above, the relationship between the applicant and respondent is appropriately categorised as that of employee and employer,” he concluded.
“It did not take steps to either remove those comments or to close the comments on its own posts.”
He also noted, “I find it extraordinary, in circumstances where the respondent was made aware by the applicant of hateful comments posted on its social media platforms, that it did not take steps to either remove those comments or to close the comments on its own posts. The failure to do so represents, in my view, a factor to which the applicant has reacted and which has contributed to her injury.”
He found in favour of Prince and awarded medical expenses to be covered (an amount was not stipulated) by Seven.
The finding could have wide ramifications for Reality TV contestants and productions. In this case the production was produced internally by Seven, but while other productions operate with independent producers the case could be a precedent in subsequent claims.
With much at stake, Seven has lodged an appeal against the decision which is now likely to be determined in early 2020.
Due to ongoing legal proceedings Seven declined to comment.